The Russian Patent office has invalidated RealD’s ‘light doubler’ patent within the country, handing a victory to rival 3D firm MasterImage, which had challenged RealD’s utility model patent. With Russia one of the major growth markets for 3D and premium large format (PLF), this is a significant turning point, made all the more notable for coming on the eve of the CinemaCon trade show, which takes place in Las Vegas next week.
MasterImage had argued that “RealD’s patent lacked novelty and failed to meet the requirements for patent protection.” A press release published by MasterImage states that the Russian Patent Office agreed with MasterImage in a ruling on 27th of March that invalidated RealD’s Russian patent.
It wasn’t initially clear why MasterImage waited more than two weeks to issue a press release (something RealD was unlikely to do, given the turn of events), other than possibly trying to maximise the awkwardness of the ruling against its rival by releasing it less than a week before the largest gathering of worldwide exhibitors and cinema vendors at the CinemaCon trade show. However, sources with knowledge of the matter report that the company was simply waiting for legal approval and an accurate translation before making any announcements. That CinemaCon begins in just a few days is merely a coincidence.
Russia is a key market for RealD as it is the largest territory for its PLF brande Luxe, which aims to compete with the likes of Imax and Dolby Cinema, hence the requirement for a bright image on a large screen. MasterImage can now compete freely with RealD for both regular 3D and PLF screens in Russia.
One consolation for RealD is that it may have already grabbed a significant enough market share in Russia to fend off any competitors. While box office has been strong there recently, cinema new builds have slowed down significantly as the plunging rubel value brought on by lower oil prices and western economic sanctions means that the import of all types of digital cinema and 3D equipment has become significantly more expensive in the past 12 months.
It remains to be seen how much new business MasterImage can capture in Russia in the short term, though long term the ruling may have leveled the playing field, not just for MasterImage, but also for all other RealD rivals that use some variant of the technology that RealD’s utility model patent 138095 for 3D beam-splitting, polarization technologies was based on.
The ruling is also likely to embolden MasterImage to redouble efforts to challenge RealD’s beam-splitter a.k.a. ‘light doubler’ patents in other markets.
Update: April 14, 2015
This post has been amended to explain that MasterImage waited two weeks after the Russian Patent Office ruling to publish a press announcement in order to get the proper legal approvals and an accurate translation of the decision.