It's not often that a jury meeting over Zoom unanimously votes to slap a video game company with a $4 million fine over paddles, but this is the reality that Valve is dealing with right now. Even after eventually failing, despite accruing a cult following, the last vestige of the Steam Machines project is costing the company a pretty penny.
The Steam Controller was discontinued after an unprecedented blowout sale in December 2019, where this piece of hardware once billed revolutionary was being offloaded at $5. That isn't the end of the story, however.
Back in 2015, Ironburg Inventions and SCUF, peripheral developers known for their gaming hardware and subsidiaries of Corsair, filed a legal complaint in Washington over the read-side paddles on the Steam Controller.
SCUF developed a system that fitted additional controls on the rear face of the archetypal controller body long ago, and patented the invention. In the past, they officially licensed the design to manufacturers like Microsoft for the Xbox Elite Controller and Sony for a special DualShock 4 featuring both the paddles and trigger extenders.
Valve, however, chose to incorporate the design without an official license. Essentially, SCUF accused Valve of stealing the design for the Steam Controller. It seems that the judges agree, as a $4 million damages fine was unanimously voted for. The fact that SCUF approached Valve before turning to legal action didn't help the latter's case.
Valve did know that its conduct involved an unreasonable risk of infringement, but it simply proceeded to infringe anyway.
-- SCUF lawyer Robert Becker
This isn't a very good omen for Valve, who are fighting legal battles on multiple fronts right now. The biggest lawsuit that Steam's operator is facing accuses them of antitrust violations - essentially, they block publishers from selling their games on other platforms at lower prices. Add to this the €7.8 million fine they were hit with by the European Commission for geo-blocking, and things aren't looking too hot.
Since the Judges agreed that the infringement was "willful", the final fine may even go beyond the $4 million already issued. Considering how completely the whole Steam Machines project failed after years of investment, development and marketing, this is a final insult being added to the injury.