By Craig Zammit

SYDNEY: Sony Computer Entertainment has faced further complications in the lead up to the launch of its Playstation 3 console after losing its latest appeal against technology partner, Immersion, and suffering a falling out with its local public relations agency, Weber Shandwick.

Claims from industry observers have suggested the Playstation 3 could be delayed until mid-2007, due to problems surrounding the copy protection system used in its Blu-Ray drive and speculation the next generation console could cost as much as $A900.

Nevertheless, with a ‘major’ Playstation 3 announcement due tomorrow, Sony will be looking to appease industry concerns.

The decision by Australian public relations agency, Weber Shandwick, to close its account with Sony Computer Entertainment Australia on April 1 2006, ends a six year working relationship between the two companies, which included the launch of the Playstation 2, after the transfer from Avviso public relations.

Weber Shandwick sighted a potential ‘conflict of interest’, with next-generation gaming devices, such as the Playstation 3, increasingly being considered ‘home entertainment’ products, and this continuing trend would have an extensive impact on the agency’s ability to work in other sectors.

In a blow to Sony in the US, a court has denied the company’s plea to overturn a patent infringement verdict involving Immersion – manufacturers of the ‘haptic feedback’ system, which is used in the Sony Dual Shock controllers.

The decision may yet see Sony having to pull its Playstation 2 console from American shelves only months after Microsoft launched its Xbox 360.

In 2002, Immersion went after both Microsoft and Sony, stating they owned the patent on the ‘haptic feedback’ system which allows gamers to feel their controllers ‘rumble’ at strategic times during gameplay.

While Microsoft decided to settle with the company, paying out $US26 million ($A35.5 million) and opting for a licensing agreement, Sony decided to fight the challenge by questioning the validity of Immersions patents and by also arguing that its Dual Shock controllers used a tactile feedback system different to that which Immersion had patented.

However after US Courts rejected the claim, Sony was soon back in court, arguing Immersion withheld evidence regarding inventor and former consultant for Immersion, Craig Thorner, claiming that his full work on ‘haptic feedback’ revealed weaknesses in Immersion’s patents.

As the final chapter unfolds, it now seems that the US District Court has ruled that Sony will have to pay Immersion $US91 million ($A124 million) in damages.

If the damages weren’t enough, Sony must now stop infringing on Immersion’s patents and that means ceasing to sell items which contain the Dual Shock controllers, which includes Playstation 2 being pulled from the shelves in the U.S.

Interestingly, Immersion is partly owned by Sony’s gaming console competitor Nintendo.