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FRENCH FACE OF THE WEEK

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Physio sues Nintendo for €20m over Wii Fit

Back in 1985, physiotherapist Nicole Walthert invented an exercise platform. So when Nintendo released its Wii Fit console, 23 years later, complete with a balance board, she was given "a shock". Now aged 75, she is suing the company for €20 million in damages for an alleged breach of patent.

Nicole Walthert accuses Nintendo of “stealing her baby” and wants the Japanese gaming giant to acknowledge her claims and give her the recognition she believes she deserves.

As well as acknowledgment, Walthert, from Orléans, in central France is also demanding €20 million in damages for an alleged breach of patent.

“An invention is like a child,” said Walthert. “And I don’t want my child to have the name ‘Nintendo.’”

According to the newspaper La République, Walthert's case is currently with a court in Paris, which has delayed its ruling. Nintendo has up until now refused to comment on her allegations.

It all began in 1985 when the physiotherapist, a specialist in back pain, came up with the ‘Bull Test.'

As exercise equipment goes, it’s a deceptively simple piece of apparatus: two platforms to plant your feet on, four springs to allow you to bend and stretch, and a spirit level to help you monitor your balance.

“The idea of the platform was that people could find their point of equilibrium, then figure out how to get the [muscular] support they needed to get along without back pain,” Walthert told local paper La République du Centre recently.

She brought it to showrooms around France, and even won a bronze medal at the renowned Lépine competition for inventors.

After receiving interest from countless physiotherapists and podiatrists, she had 2,000 prototypes made up.

But the equipment lacked one thing – a scale that would allow the user or their physiotherapist to see how their weight was distributed in various poses.

Unable to find a manufacturer or a buyer for her invention, Walthert left the Bull Test in the closet and went back to her physiotherapy career for the next decade.

However, during the brave new world of the early 2000s, a piece of technology came out on the market that changed everything.

It might not sound like much to most people, but the ultra-flexible elastomer pressure sensor was the missing piece of the puzzle for Walthert.

She integrated the sensors into the platform, hammered away at prototype after prototype, changed the name from ‘Bull Test’ to ‘Lift Gym’ and finally, in 2006, received a patent.

Two years later, though, Walthert got “a shock.”

Looking up at a billboard, she saw an advert for Nintendo’s Wii Fit, whose Balance Board she believed bore a remarkable resemblance to her “Lift Gym”.

She immediately hired an intellectual property lawyer in Paris and approached the Japanese giant about the invention.

In 2010, the 75-year-old French David decided to take the Japanese Goliath to court, and sued Nintendo for no less than €20 million in damages over an alleged breach of patent.

Since the whole episode started, Walthert has shelled out €50,000 in lawyer’s fees. Nintendo, meanwhile, have sold 22 million Wii Fit units.

“If I got just one euro for every sale, I’d be compensated. And I’d pay tax on that. France is losing money here!” she told Le Figaro on Tuesday.

Even an out-of-court settlement would have been acceptable to her, but she says Nintendo have cut short every attempted conversation.

“They’re playing for time. They know I was born in 1938,” Walthert lamented this week.

Earlier in the summer, Walthert got the green light for an EU-wide patent on the Lift-Gym. That, combined with her existing French patent, greatly strengthens her case against Nintendo.

Nicole Walthert’s struggle, then, as unlikely and frustrating as it is, might just end in triumph as early as next year.

When the Local called Nintendo's office in Paris, we were told there was no one available for comment.

The Japanese company has also declined to comment to the French press on this case.
 

The Local's French Face of the Week is a person in the news who – for good or ill – has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as French Face of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

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INVENTIONS

Paris to Rome in one hour: France backs the Hyperloop

Imagine Paris to Marseille in just 40 minutes, or Paris to Rome in just over one hour. French rail chiefs believe it's not just a pie in the sky idea.

Paris to Rome in one hour: France backs the Hyperloop
Photo: Hyperloop Transport Technologies

Hyperloop One startup, intent on zipping people along at near-supersonic speeds in pressurized tubes, announced Tuesday that the French national rail company had joined its growing list of backers.

Hyperloop One said that it raised $80 million in fresh funding from an array of investors, including GE Ventures and France's SNCF.

“The overwhelming response we've had already confirms what we've always known, that Hyperloop One is at the forefront of a movement to solve one of the planet's most pressing problems,” Hyperloop One co-founder Shervin Pishevar said.

“The brightest minds are coming together at the right time to eliminate the distances and borders that separate economies and cultures.”

While the idea of the Hyperloop replacing France's already high-speed TGV services might seem a little too far-fetched at the moment, French rail chiefs clearly see some potential in the project.

So why not all ow us to dream a little.

With Hyperloop's average speed of 970km/hour, imagine all the cities in France being within an hour's travelling time from Paris. Paris to Marseille for example could take as little as 40 minutes – the time spent by many commuters on the Paris Metro each morning.

A trip to Rome on the Hyperloop would also be little over an hour away and Berlin would be 55 minutes according to very, very early guesstimates.

Pishevar and Brogan BamBrogan founded Hyperloop One, originally named Hyperloop Technologies, in 2013 to make real Elon Musk's well-researched vision of a lightning-fast transport system with the potential to transform how people live.

Musk outlined his futuristic idea in a paper released in 2013, challenging innovators to bring the dream to life.

Hyperloop One, one of the startups that picked up the gauntlet Musk threw down, plans a demonstration Wednesday in the desert outside Las Vegas to show what it has accomplished so far.

BamBrogan also promised a “full-scaled, full-speed” demo by the end of the year.

“It's not just a faster train; it is an absolute on-demand experience,” he said during a presentation here late Tuesday.

“It leaves when you get there and goes directly to your destination.”

He went on to playfully describe Hyperloop as having such a controlled environment that it would be “elevator smooth” as well as “pet friendly, kid friendly, grandma friendly.”

Hyperloop One is so confident in the speed at which the project is moving that it announced a global challenge in which businesses, governments, citizens, academics and others can submit proposals for where the systems should be built.

“Just like an Olympics bidding process, we want to understand the great ideas in the world and then extract the best one,” Hyperloop One chief executive Rob Lloyd said.

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