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Robin Antonick wins Madden lawsuit

EA could be liable for millions in back royalties; we speak with Antonick's attorney [Updated: EA responds]

Update: EA sent us the following statement: “While we're disappointed with the jury's verdict and will appeal, this has always been a case about games from the early 1990s, and it has no impact on today's Madden NFL franchise.”

The jury has returned a verdict in programmer Robin Antonick's lawsuit against Electronic Arts over John Madden Football, finding in favor of Antonick. This leaves EA liable for what could be millions of dollars in royalties for multiple versions of Madden Football.

"Now that we have this liability finding, it's going to be pretty easy for our expert to link all the other games," said Antonick's attorney Stuart Painter, speaking exclusively to GamesIndustry International. "We will be sending out new discovery to Electronic Arts, and we'll be asking for all their source code." Of course, the process could be over soon if there's a settlement, but Painter doesn't see that as likely. "Our experience with EA's lawyers, especially their in-house lawyers, is what they lack in good legal judgment they make up for in unreasonable stubbornness," he said.

The Sega Genesis games up until January 1st, 1996 were ruled by the jury to be using Antonick's copyrighted material. Specifically, that the expression of the plays in Antonick's source code was used by EA in its games over time.

"Our experience with EA's lawyers, especially their in-house lawyers, is what they lack in good legal judgment they make up for in unreasonable stubbornness"

Stuart Painter

The next phase of the trial will be a series of discovery motions, where Antonick's attorneys will request information from EA regarding the source code for all versions of Madden Football, as well as sales data. When the attorneys have had a chance to analyze the information, a new jury will be impaneled to determine what royalties Antonick may be owed. The sum could be considerable, because those royalties accrue 10 percent interest from the date they were incurred. A million dollars in royalties that was due in 1991 could therefore be closer to $9 million.

Antonick's fraud claims were tossed out, but his attorneys are appealing that decision. It's expected that EA will also be appealing this decision, and the court case that began in 2011 will continue into next year, unless a settlement is reached.

Antonick, a programmer who had played college football, says he was resopnsible for the programming innovations that allowed 22 players on the field and the execution of a real NFL playbook, as well as algorithms that would replicate player attributes.

The case had multiple witnesses, including former EA CEO Trip Hawkins and current Chief Creative Officer Rich Hilleman; John Madden testified on video. Closing arguments Friday focused on Antonick's claim that he contributed to the Sega Genesis versions of Madden from 1991 to 1995. The jury deliberated for two days before returning its verdict upholding Antonick's claims.

EA has been asked for comment; we'll update you if we hear back.

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Steve Peterson

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Steve Peterson has been in the game business for 30 years now as a designer (co-designer of the Champions RPG among others), a marketer (for various software companies) and a lecturer. Follow him on Twitter @20thLevel.