Game Trademarks and IP protection

Game Trademarks and IP protection

This week we saw both a positive and a negative of having solid IP and protecting your Trademark in Games. Let’s start with the negative, so that we can end on a positive and maybe some sort of conclusion to this first entry in my Monday Musings articles on the Orangepixel website!

In the Monday Musings I try to talk about the stuff that’s happening in the world of Game Development, from interesting game releases, to interesting technology, and game business happenings.

A right called Trademark

Now I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t have the interest in knowing everything about this, but when you create games you will have a couple of ways to protect yourself from “copy cats” or people taking your awesome idea and making money from it.

As long as you create it all yourself, you have the copyright, so you have some rights by default already. But you can’t “copyright” everything. Oftentimes companies, usually bigger companies with money, will try to protect their games a little bit better, and one such way is registering a trademark on the name (and sometimes a couple of other ways of describing the game).

So in simple explanation, you cannot create a game and then name it Pokemon, Call of Duty, Doom, Minecraft or  Fortnite!  Those names are trademarks of the companies that made the games we all know about. In many cases that also means you have to be careful when using those names IN your full game title. So naming your game “The Temple of Minecraft” would most likely have Microsoft come knocking on your door and tell you to rename it!  OR If they find out after your game starts selling extremely well, they will tell you to stop AND demand a large part of the money you made!

Trademarks are not just evil tho, it’s very normal for a company to want to protect their hard work. And most companies are handling their trademark in a fair and normal way.

A monstrosity in the making

Sometimes companies go a little bit further when protecting their Trademarks. This last week we saw such a case happening in the Game world. The Monster Beverage company (of the energy drink) apparently had filed more than 100 trademark complaints against Pokemon, Monster Hunter and a few other games over the use of the word Monster.

The claims are about “confusion”. The company, or more exactly, the lawyers believe that gamers will be confused when they play Monster Hunter into thinking that it’s part of the energy drink.. somehow..

They also had a lawsuit against Ubisoft, who ended up renaming their game, but I like to think that was probably because Ubisoft wasn’t happy with the name anyway and came up with a better one.

Monster is just one of the recent ones to hit the media, over the last decades we’ve also seen weird trademarks for the word Epic (not by Epic games but a tiny unknown developer), a trademark of the word Candy, and Zenimax (Bethesda, iD software, etc) are also notorious for being very protective of their somewhat generic names like Quake and Doom.

Billions of reasons to protect

Interestingly, this last week we also saw a very good reason why a company wants to protect their IP and Trademarks. Nintendo is also notorious for taking down everything from hobby projects, to fan-animations or let’s play youtube videos showing their games.

As big and evil as it often feels, Nintendo does show that protecting and controlling your trademarks can be a big part of the success.

They have been doing Mario games for 40 years now, along with their Zelda games, they have been building a whole company that lasted decades on just a handful of IP’s. Keeping those trademarks, those characters, the world they are placed in, all to strict rules and ownership, is what makes Nintendo thrive.

The result is that the Mario Brand is a very strong one, everyone knows the tunes, the sounds, the world, all spanning decades.

And the movie that released last week is well on it’s way to setting records, possibly not because of it being a great movie (disclaimer: I have yet to see it) but in large part because of the IP that Nintendo Trademarked and protects to the fullest.

My Trademark dispute

So Trademarks are a good thing, but as always, it’s what people do with it that matters. I personally ran into a small dispute with my game Ashworld.

I had lawyers from the Evil Dead trademark contact me about the game, they wanted to have all the revenue reports, and stop me from selling the game immediately.  At first this was very scary to read, I double checked if it was official, and from what I can tell it all came from an official law-firm who were indeed handling stuff to the Evil Dead company.  From what I recall the trademark issue was with the word Ash in the title.

After my initial scare, I decided to not just cave in on something like this. The full title of the game is Ashworld, due to the game being placed in a post-apocalyptic world covered in.. Ash !  Not the name of the main guy, nothing to do with the Evil Dead or their Ash. And not even using the word Ash as a single word!

I never heard back from them after explaining the game and setting.. but perhaps I will find out if I ever visit the USA and have to go to court for a trademark dispute.



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