This story has been updated to reflect that Hit Box LLC has claimed the Snack Box Micro is infringing on its patents after obtaining court documents.
As the fighting game community grows so does the niche of building controllers to fill the gaps between ergonomics and accessibility where standard game console controllers fall short. Chief among the designs found in the hands of gamers are all-button designs that have been popularized through Hit Box LLC’s Hit Box controller. The iconic white rectangle has become popular enough to spawn several similar designs and the Hit Box company has noticed. This month a Cease & Desist notice was sent by Hit Box LLC to JunkFood Customs Arcades on an alleged patent infringement, and JFCA has responded with a lawsuit. What does this mean for the future of enthusiast controller hardware? Read on for more.
Lawsuit discovered; JunkFood sent DMCA prior to CEO appearance
The news of the filing of a lawsuit from JunkFood against Hit Box comes by way of a video from journalist Mr. Sujano where he goes over the details of a published filing. The video will be linked below, and provides some context as to the history of all-button controller designs and the patents surrounding them. After that video went live JunkFood explained via a tweet:
Junk Food Custom Arcades was sent a Cease & Desist letter from Hit Box prior to CEO and did not attend in connection with a good faith effort to resolve this dispute. We maintain that our products do not infringe any valid intellectual property rights, as was suggested in the C&D letter.
The complaint referenced in this video is out path to a Declaratory Judgement. JFCA has always respected valid intellectual property rights and will continue to do so. We look forward to providing you, our valued customers, top-notch JFCA products moving forward.
This tweet matches earlier news of JunkFood pulling out of their sponsorship with CEO for the 2021 event this month.
Details shared by JunkFood via Discord also explain that Hit Box LLC sought two conditions for “resolving the present dispute”: To cancel any partnership and plans to sell products at CEO, and also to stop selling & destroy any infringing products. At the time of writing it is still possible to purchase all-button controllers from JunkFood via their website.
The Declaratory Judgement being mentioned in the tweet from JunkFood is typically the next step after a Cease & Desist notice where the parties disagree on the one-sided ownership of rights, and JFCA is now seeking clarification on the legality of their all-button controllers relative to Hit Box’s designs. Mr. Sujano goes into detail of prior all-button controller designs in his video covering the suit:
Hit Box targets the Snack Box Micro
The history of all-button controllers is filled with gray areas: The design was ostensibly popularized by Hit Box and they remain an important vendor of ergonomic controllers in the FGC. Mr. Sujano raises an important point about patent enforcement – how quickly would major controller vendors jump on the opportunity to make all-button controllers if they knew it was legally permissible to do so? It is without question that Hori, Qanba and etc. would be extremely competitive and drown out the marketability of the people who have poured significant financial resources into building a business around controller styles they believe in.
Court documents explain that the Snack Box Micro is the design which prompted the C&D by Hit Box LLC which is a slim and compact adaptation of a button layout featured on the Hit Box controller. JunkFood was promoting their partnership with CEO 2021 via a custom CEO design for the Snack Box Micro:
It’s a thing of beauty. Will be sold exclusively during #CEO2021 at the @junkfoodarcades booth. Will be making a video for the YT this weekend with it. Ty for sending me the very first @CEOGaming Snack Box Micro! pic.twitter.com/DdVKL9ogKg
— Alex Jebailey (@Jebailey) October 19, 2021
To public knowledge Hit Box LLC has not targeted other all-button controller providers, but this case appears to be centered around the promotion of JunkFood’s products at an offline major. Hit Box presently has a large marketing effort to promote their products, including a partnership with Arc System Works to provide custom Hit Box controllers to winners of the Arc Revo 2021 America circuits for Guilty Gear -Strive-.
Top 2 players of each #GuiltyGearStrive event will be invited to compete in the finals and will receive an exclusive custom Hit Box.
— Hit Box (@Hit_Box) December 15, 2021
What does this mean for enthusiast controllers moving forward?
It’s unclear whether the line is drawn at selling a controller that shares characteristics with the Hit Box or explicitly partnering with an offline major to promote the controller. It certainly conflicts with FGC culture; Most offline majors host a presence of hardware enthusiasts offering their wares without having to jump through online order hoops or delivery windows. If Hit Box LLC’s Cease & Desist holds up in the court of law it may deter other enthusiasts from producing anything similar.
Members of the community have also brought up a point that may be contested in court: Aside from the button layouts being shared between the Hit Box and Snack Box Micro, the characteristics could not be more different.
Besides the button layout, where do I go for a travel sized button controller? HB has nothing. Where do I go for mechanical keyswitch buttons? HB has nothing. Where do I go for lightweight layered construction? HB has nothing. They do not satisfy the needs of this product.
— Best RT's in the Game (@JohnXuandou) December 17, 2021
This is easily proven true at glance: The Hit Box is much larger, uses Sanwa Denshi arcade buttons and acrylic top panel where the Snack Box is slimmer, uses mechanical key switches under the buttons and is built in a matte plastic shell. If different form factors cannot be produced so long as they carry the same button layout as a Hit Box, it may not be possible to produce similar controllers at all.
What do you think of the controllers being mentioned here? Know of any other providers that could be affected by this? Discuss on the SuperCombo Forums arcade hardware general thread.