Rebellion trademark clash compels Ballistic Interactive to change game name
Upcoming RPG Hellhunter will now be released as HellSign, Sherdians lawyer warns indies to check trademarks
Australian studio Ballistic Interactive has been forced to drop the title of its upcoming game after it clashed with a pre-registered trademark.
The developer had been working for several years on Hellhunter, a supernatural RPG, but when they attempted to register the game's name as a trademark, it was discovered that Rebellion Developments had already secured the name in early 2017.
Ballistic has already run a successful Kickstarter campaign, established a Steam page and commissioned marketing assets, but despite discussing possible solutions with Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley, they have been compelled to rename the title HellSign.
"We looked into trademarks early in development," Ballistic co-founder Pete Skyking said in a statement. "But as we were on a small indie budget, and found that many successful indie games didn't have a trademark on launch, we decided to take the risk and instead put the money toward making a better game."
He continued: "[Jason] was open to working something out and helping us through the situation - but unfortunately, at the end of the day, as indies operating out of our savings our only two options were to change our name, or cut content. Needless to say, we had to change the name."
Interestingly, the statement announcing the name change also included advice from London law firm Sheridans - more specifically from the head of the company's computer games department Alex Tutty.
"Indies would be recommended to check trademark registers before they release," he said. "It's easy to get caught up in development and forget about that, but it should really always be the case. And you do need to run that check again when you get closer to release.
"If you have released, or if you've already built up a substantial amount of awareness and goodwill in a particular territory, and then someone comes along and trademarks your name, then the law says they can't demand that you stop using that name, and you could apply to have their trademark invalidated. But you have to have that goodwill, and the consumers, and in general the invalidity proceedings are quite lengthy.
"My advice to indies would be to perform a search on the trademark registers - they're all online. Do it as soon as you think of a name. Then do it before you release. If you've got a really good name, and you want a line in the sand, look at getting a registered trademark in a respected but cheap territory so you have something to demonstrably show you have a registered right. You can prove that you applied for it, and got it, and then you're protected moving forward, because you can - subject to certain rules - backdate any future trademark applications in other territories to the date you got your first trademark if you do this within six months."
Last year, we were joined by Kostya Lobov of London law firm Harbottle & Lewis on The GamesIndustry.biz Podcast, where he shared his own advice on how to be sure your game, name and other assets are protected.