Hiding In Plain Sight

According to NeoGAF this past week Nintendo successfully won the patent for a Supplemental Computing Device.  We’ve all been wondering when we are going to hear about the NX from Nintendo.  Based on this information, it’s possible that we will get some type of announcement regarding the NX in the very near future.  Here is why I think so.

Those who have been following the Nintendo NX situation for more than a year have probably heard of the vaunted Supplemental Computing Device patent seen in the image above.  There are a lot of theories as to what the SCD is and what it will be used for.  Before we get started I think I should explain what a patent actually is. 

Issued Patents (Patent Grants) Data Products
A patent grant is an intellectual property right granted by the U.S. Government to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

A patent grant document contains a patent number, title, inventor name, assignee, application number, filing date, prior publication date, foreign application priority data (if applicable), classification information, references cited, examiner and attorney information, abstract, specification, claims, and drawings.

So basically when a company comes up with an idea, they patent the idea so that someone else can’t use that idea for financial gain.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that they will USE that patent.  More than anything else it means that they want to make sure no one ELSE uses it.
Here is the official information regarding the successful patent filing.
Small summary of the SCD patent:

  • Supplemental computing device(s) configured to detach-ably couple to a game console in order to provide processing resources for an increase of speed or quality of a user’s gaming experience.
  • The supplemental computing device includes one or more processors, memory and one or more communication interfaces.
  • In some instances, the functionality of the device may be basic in order to keep a cost of the device relatively low. As such, the device may be free from drivers, video cards, user-control interfaces, and the like.
  • Users may share processing resources. Doing so can compensate a user in form of access to other supplemental computing devices maintained by other users, discounts on games, access to certain game content, points for redemption for digital or physical goods, social network badges, any form of value really.  

This means that Nintendo has the rights to use this technology in North America exclusively.  What does this mean for Nintendo NX?  Well, we don’t know.  We don’t know if this technology has anything to do with the NX at all, if this technology is the base concept of the NX, or if Nintendo plans to implement this technology somewhere down the line.  However, there are a few things that ring a bell or two. 

Nintendo has stated that whatever the new form factor is of the NX that they have kept information regarding the NX in a tightly-sealed vault because they were afraid that competitors would steal the idea.  Now Nintendo officially filed for the patent back in June of 2014, however public knowledge of the patent was uncovered in December of 2015 and it is rumored that it was in December that Nintendo made the decision to delay the NX until March of 2017.  I say “rumor” because I have no direct knowledge of any statement from Nintendo to confirm this. 
Looking at what this SCD actually does now that we know for sure, this definitely is something that is unique to the video game console industry.  They only thing close to this would be the Sega CD/32X upgrades to the Mega Drive, and of course the 64DD and Expansion Pak for the N64, but this goes far beyond that.  The ability to share processing power with other NX owners is ingenious and revolutionary.  It’s taking cloud-computing to the next level.  I’ve often said that Nintendo historically has been a company that either comes up with concepts no one ever thought of before, or takes existing ideas that haven’t lived up to their full potential and making them viable. 

It stands to reason that Nintendo has not revealed NX to this point because this patent had not become officially their property until now and had they of revealed the NX before now (such as at E3) then a competitor could have put in for a patent of their own using the same technology.  In the long run Nintendo would probably still win the patent, but it would indeed be a LONG RUN and Nintendo has to get things in gear to make that March 2017 launch.  Having other people in the mix would probably have caused the approval process to last much longer.  I could be wrong.  I’m not an expert in that area. 

We may have misinterpreted Nintendo’s position on the NX silence.  Perhaps we’ve known the secret of NX all along, but Nintendo had to wait until the US patent office granted them exclusivity to that secret before they can tell us?

Hiding In Plain Sight……… 

  • Anonymous

    The problem is, someone made a good point that the NX's secret most likely wouldn't be publicly visible. Patents can be granted and kept private for a certain amount of time expressly to keep people from dumpster-diving. As a result, this to me looks like an optional feature that will be implemented down the line alongside the "unique" VR that Kimishima confirmed they were researching. I do wish this was the secret, though. It's too good to be treated as an add-on. But at the same time, it also means there's more to the system than power.

  • Nintendo doesn't strike me as a company so ambitious that they could come up with a concept that is so revolutionary that no one has done it before and it is so assured that it would be successful they implemented this iron-clad gag order. It's obviously possible, but based on recent history it doesn't seem plausible.

    Add to that the Nintendo NX was Iwata's last project. So his philosophy will most likely be reflected in it. We'll see.

  • Anonymous

    "Recent history"? Interesting. Were the GamePad and Wii Remote revealed in premature patents as well? That would obviously say a lot.

    Iwata's philosophy was to exchange power for interface. Are you saying that this would be reflected by keeping the base specs low-ish in order to bundle an SCD with every console, or are you referring to something else entirely?

  • Iwata's philosophy was to come up with an idea, and then build technology around that idea. Console need only to be powerful ENOUGH to do with the idea calls for. Without knowing what the NX actually is, there is no foundation to make a guess on the power level.

    Recent history has shown Nintendo to take already existing ideas that haven't lived up to their full potential and make them better. Cloud-computing is not a new thing, but no one has really figured it out just yet. Perhaps Nintendo has found out how to make cloud-computing work and while the concept itself is not new, nor is a SCD, Nintendo's formula of CC using SCD to allow users to share processing power may indeed be an original design that needs to be protected.

  • Anonymous

    That's a better take on it. As opposed to automatically prioritizing one area over another, it's about implementing a concept and ensuring it is within the bounds of mass-market price. It's true that we have no official word on the direction the NX is headed, but we can make educated guesses. Luckily, there's no longer a concern over a concept getting in the way of the direction of third parties thanks to the advancements in the performance-to-price ratio of processors. But even still, this may not be entirely necessary if the SCD IS the main concept.

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