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King opposes Banner Saga trademark

UPDATE: King responds to dispute - "King has not and is not trying to stop Banner Saga from using its name"

UPDATE: A King spokesperson has issued a response to the apparent trademark dispute over Stoic's The Banner Saga.

"King has not and is not trying to stop Banner Saga from using its name. We do not have any concerns that Banner Saga is trying build on our brand or our content. However, like any prudent company, we need to take all appropriate steps to protect our IP, both now and in the future.

"In this case, that means preserving our ability to enforce our rights in cases where other developers may try to use the Saga mark in a way which infringes our IP rights and causes player confusion. If we had not opposed Banner Saga's trade mark application, it would be much easier for real copy cats to argue that their use of “Saga” was legitimate. This is an important issue for King because we already have a series of games where “Saga” is key to the brand which our players associate with a King game; Candy Crush Saga, Bubble Witch Saga, Pet Rescue Saga, Farm Heroes Saga and so on. All of these titles have already faced substantive trademark and copyright issues with clones."

ORIGINAL STORY: King has filed a trademark claim against Stoic over the common use of the word "Saga" in the titles of their key products.

Stoic's debut game, The Banner Saga: Chapter 1, was released just over a week ago, and King's lawyers have argued that its title shares a little too much common ground with the studio's catalogue of "Saga" games, which dates from 2011 and includes both Bubble Witch Saga and Candy Crush Saga.

According to a document filed on December 27 last year, King believes it will be "damaged" by Stoic's "The Banner Saga" trademark, which it applied for in July, 2013. Every trademark application in the U.S. is open to a period of opposition, which in the case of The Banner Saga was extended to December 29 - King's claim was enetered just before the deadline.

The document states that, "The Banner Saga mark is confusingly and deceptively similar to Opposer's {King's] previously used Saga marks." It goes on to argue that Stoic's game is similar enough in terms of content, and will be marketed and sold through similar enough channels, for "customers and potential customers" to confuse the product's origins, "resulting in a likelihood of confusion in the marketplace and damage to [King]."

Yesterday it became clear that King had trademarked the word "Candy", opening up the potential for legal action against developers who have used the otherwise generic term in the titles of their games. Indeed, the news surfaced via a developer who was served with a trademark infringement notice, a developer who subsequently lamented his inability to fight back against the legal resources at King's disposal.

A spokesperson from King had this to say: "We have trademarked the word 'CANDY' in the EU, as our IP is constantly being infringed and we have to enforce our rights and to protect our players from confusion. We don't enforce against all uses of CANDY - some are legitimate, and of course we would not ask App developers who use the term legitimately to stop doing so.

"The particular App in this instance was called 'Candy Casino Slots - Jewels Craze Connect: Big Blast Mania Land', but its icon in the App store just says 'Candy Slots', focussing heavily on our trademark. As well as infringing our and other developer's IP, use of keywords like this as an App name is also a clear breach of Apple's terms of use. We believe this App name was a calculated attempt to use other companies' IP to enhance its own games, through means such as search rankings."

While many will no doubt side against King for its actions, Jas Purewal, an expert on IP law in the games industry and a contributor to this site, has published an interesting post on his Gamer Law blog offering a different perspective.

According to Purewal, the vast majority of trademark disputes are routine, and a part of the process that gives the trademark system its value. They are generally solved by small changes to titles and branding, or with "coexistence agreements" that allow both companies to proceed with no changes made - he cites the dispute between Bethesda and Mojang over "Scrolls" as an example of this. Furthermore, Purewal argues that examples of genuine injustice are rarer than most casual observers appreciate.

"IP law and how it applies to the games industry is still evolving fast (that's one big reason I write this blog) and there are a number of issues we don't understand fully yet," Purewal states. "In those situations, it's right that there should be a lively debate about how we want our games industry to develop, including what legal rights games developers should and shouldn't have in their games.

"But there is a lot we DO already understand about IP law and the games industry. How trademarks work is one of those things. I'd venture to suggest therefore that those sections of the games community who are up in arms about this latest trademark issue would probably benefit from taking some time to think things through, to try to understand how games businesses and the law actually works, rather than drawing rushed conclusions from little experience on the subject."

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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
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