French Face of the Week

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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