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What the Langdell vs EA ruling really means

On Friday, a Californian court denied notoriously litigious Edge Games boss Tim Langdell's attempt to gain a preliminary injunction against EA's use of the name 'Mirror's Edge.' In a scathing report, the judge also revealed that Langdell had submitted falsified evidence to support his trademark of the word 'edge' and various derivatives. So what does this really mean, both in terms of Langdell's action against EA, and the longer-term consequences for the infamous 'trademark troll?' spoke to Jas Purewal, lawyer and author of Gamer/Law, for an explanation of what has happened to Langdell - and what might happen next.

What does the denied injunction actually mean?

This isn't necessarily the end of the lawsuit altogether. The way in which it worked was Langdell started this lawsuit claiming of course that EA's use of Mirror's Edge infringed on his trademarks. He's got a whole range of trademarks which are all 'edge'-related, and he sought an injuction which is standard practice. It attempts to stop the other side from using the thing that you're complaining about until the litigation can be resolved, so it would just stop them from doing anything with 'Mirror's Edge.'

If that works, it's a real boost in your favour, and quite often what you'll see is the other side will settle - because what are they going to do? They can't sell their products. If it fails, however, it is going to cause you a lot of difficulty in proceeding with that lawsuit in the future. That's exactly the problem that Langdell is now faced with. He went very quickly for this preliminary injunction, he tried to stop EA from using it, but now that EA has been very comprehensively vindicated, while technically he can continue with the lawsuit, I'm not really sure what there is to do, because the court has come down so comprehensively in EA's favour, largely influenced by the fact that he quite clearly had doctored most of the evidence which he had put forward to try and claim the trademarks in the first place. I mean, he just made things up.

Is there much precedent for people pulling the wool over the patent office's eyes like that? How did he get away with it for so long?

From time to time, it does happen across the board. The problem is that while in many different countries, the authorities will of course ask for evidence and will conduct enquiries, unless they've got anything that makes them think that there are potential issues, they're not going to conduct a forensic enquiry. So when, for example, Langdell put forward a cover from Edge magazine in 2004 and said it was his, no-one there in the US decided to look at what the actual Edge magazine cover in 2004 had been. But when EA put evidence of that forward, it was quite clear that it had been doctored. So it does happen from time to time - though this is the first time that I can recall this happening in a games industry case - and the consequences are always going to be severe. In this particular case, the court has come quite clearly against Langdell. It's going to be difficult but not impossible for him to continue the lawsuit. I think more importantly for Langdell, it's going to be quite difficult for him to commence other kinds of legal action regarding his claims over the edge trademarks, because anything he tries to do that against is simply going to point to this case and say 'you didn't do very well, did you?'

But more seriously than that, the judge was so far in EA's favour that he even raised the possibility of criminal action against Langdell and Edge Games, because they had falsified evidence. He said that the record contained numerous items of evidence that Langdell had wilfully committed fraud against the US patents and trademarks office in obtaining and maintaining registration for many of the marks, possibly warranting criminal penalties.

What are the likely consequences for Langdell?

There are three potential consequences we could see coming out of this. The first is action against Edge games, stripping them of their trademarks, if actually they prove to be completely made up as EA alleges, and the court seems to agree.

Number two is action against Langdell personally. Whether that be civil action or, number three, potentially criminal action for lying to the court. It is just speculation at the moment as to whether that will actually happen.

Who would the onus for pursuing that be on?

On the IP side, it would most likely be the IP authorities. But for civil and criminal action, it would potentially be by law enforcement authorities directly - against Langdell or against Edge Games. All that we can say is this document was published on October 1, and on October 4 there was another, very short court document which requires EA to make available its evidence regarding the misrepresentation by Langdell. Now that's obviously going to be in connection with something, but we don't know what. I would imagine in the next few weeks we will see further developments on that front. EA may step out of the picture, but the regulators, the law enforcement authorities might step in. And that's pretty serious. This guy has been around in the industry for a while, he was formerly on the board of IGDA.

I don't know what kind of chilling effect this lawsuit has had on others in the games industry wanting to use 'edge', but I would imagine that if there was any such chilling effect, people not doing things just in case, then that will have gone now. What this shows is, for a start, Edge Games is going to be in trouble regarding its IP claims, no question about that. Langdell potentially is in trouble as well. It should also serve, I think, as a message again to the games industry that trademarks are a very important part of the legal protection of games, and sometimes you have to go to court in order to protect them. But you have to do so on a proper legal basis, because in this case Langdell clearly didn't, and there are now very serious consequences for his business as a result. This shouldn't be done lightly.

Are there broader implications for the games industry, as to how enforceable trademarks are?

I think you can never exclude the possibility that there will be two games in the future which have very similar names, and that you could have exactly the same kind of issues. And when they do, people will refer back to this lawsuit, but I don't think it sets any kind of big precedent or watershed moment. Trademarks have been around for a while, trademark lawsuits have been around in the games industry and tech generally, but this is a timely reminder that games are essentially intellectual property and when it comes right down to it you need to go back to things like trademarks and copyright if you actually want to protect your game.

Will this affect the other games which Langdell has enforced name changes upon?

Formally speaking, no, but commercially speaking, as a matter of reality, does Langdell still have the appetite to go after other people, even despite this very clear setback? If he was to try, any and all of the people (in the US at least) could point to this and say he didn't do very well. But that's not necessarily going to stop him. I don't how he's paying for this - that lawsuit won't have been cheap - but this may not stop him.

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Latest comments (12)

Charles Lentz Game Developer, Stardock11 years ago
How on Earth did Langdell ever think this was going to work out in his favor? If you make stuff up and take it to court as proof, you have to expect people are going to find out and use it against you.
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Josef Brett Animator 11 years ago
That 'EDGE' magazine cover he mocked up is awful. I mean it's really, really (worse than student level coursework) bad. How did he expect to submit that to a court and not get found out?!

EDGE always have good covers.
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Maarten Noyons CEO, NCC11 years ago
I wonder what David Papazian of Mobigame is thinks when he reads this.
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Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator 11 years ago
Josef have you got a link to that? I would love to see the 'cover'. ;P
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Radek Koncewicz CEO, Creative Lead, Incubator Games11 years ago
I saw that cover in a forum post a while back, and it was bad.

Like Charles mentioned, though, what was Langdell thinking when he took up EA on their court date? Faking some merchandise might have been enough for the trademark office, but was there ever a chance it was going to stand up to closer scrutiny? Photoshoped magazine covers, fraudulent distribution claims, incorrect registration dates, etc. are all fairly easy to debunk.
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Henry Winchester Games Editor, PC Format, Future Publishing11 years ago
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Duncan Blair Designer, Haiku Interactive11 years ago
It's genuinely hilarious! I love the pasted-in plug for "EDGE game PCs". Guess he was hoping to kill 2 trademark claims with 1 piece of fabricated evidence there! In the report itself - linked to in the article - you can see a similarly awful photoshopping of a comic book cover. The sheer hubris he's demonstrated in thinking he could get away with this is astounding.
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Vanessa Vanasin Senior Publicist, Activision Blizzard11 years ago
I think he starts these lawsuits on the presumption that the other party won't have the funds or the tenacity to do everything necessary that the court needs, so he wins by default. Mainly, for an indie dev, it probably comes down to not having enough money for a potentially lengthy lawsuit, so they'll opt to cut their losses, settle, and pay the licensing fee he asks for. Then, he can use that as evidence to other developers that they need to pay him. If you've kept up with the story and read up on all of his past accusations, it's all a very sad business in general.
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Emily Rose Artist 11 years ago
Then he's doubly stupid for going after a giant like EA...
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Sam Berrow11 years ago
He got away with that one for 6 years!
Its taken this long for Langdell to have the hubris to get involved with a large publisher with the means to defend itself, leading to his awful evidence to be properly scrutinised.

I imagine this makes mobigames extremely angry. Their having to deal with his hassle to then have a court rule in favour of EA and suggest criminal charges could be appropriate must be sickening.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Sam Berrow on 5th October 2010 8:28pm

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Josef Brett Animator 11 years ago
Kingman - if the link Henry provided doesn't work, then it is the 'report' link at the top of the article - and it is on Page 9 of the embedded PDF.

It is truly, truly awful.

Edit: On a slightly different note, does anyone know if there will be another 'proper' Mirrors Edge game? I know the first one got mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it despite it's flaws.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Josef Brett on 6th October 2010 12:07pm

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