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12. February 2014

 

So you’ve spent the last few months or years of your life developing a game.  Even getting it to market is one hell of an accomplishment.  Getting it to market and actually making money is even better.  Now imagine getting stomped on by a lawyer because your game’s name is similar to an overly broad trademark.  That would suck, wouldn’t it?  Now can you imagine if you released and trademarked the game two years before the other game existed?  Now, insult to injury, can you imagine if the game company suing you very likely copied a great deal of your game in the first place? 

 

Sounds unbelievable doesn’t it?  Well, that’s exactly what just happened to CandySwipe developer Runsome Apps Inc.  The following was posted on the CandySwipe website.

 

CS

Open letter to King.com who wants to cancel the registration of the CandySwipe trademark.

Dear King,

 

Congratulations! You win! I created my game CandySwipe in memory of my late mother who passed away at an early age of 62 of leukemia. I released CandySwipe in 2010 five months after she passed and I made it because she always liked these sorts of games. In fact, if you beat the full version of the android game, you will still get the message saying "...the game was made in memory of my mother, Layla..." I created this game for warmhearted people like her and to help support my family, wife and two boys 10 and 4. Two years after I released CandySwipe, you released Candy Crush Saga on mobile; the app icon, candy pieces, and even the rewarding, "Sweet!" are nearly identical. So much so, that I have hundreds of instances of actual confusion from users who think CandySwipe is Candy Crush Saga, or that CandySwipe is a Candy Crush Saga knockoff. So when you attempted to register your trademark in 2012, I opposed it for "likelihood of confusion" (which is within my legal right) given I filed for my registered trademark back in 2010 (two years before Candy Crush Saga existed). Now, after quietly battling this trademark opposition for a year, I have learned that you now want to cancel my CandySwipe trademark so that I don't have the right to use my own game's name. You are able to do this because only within the last month you purchased the rights to a game named Candy Crusher (which is nothing like CandySwipe or even Candy Crush Saga). Good for you, you win. I hope you're happy taking the food out of my family's mouth when CandySwipe clearly existed well before Candy Crush Saga.

 

I have spent over three years working on this game as an independent app developer. I learned how to code on my own after my mother passed and CandySwipe was my first and most successful game; it's my livelihood, and you are now attempting to take that away from me. You have taken away the possibility of CandySwipe blossoming into what it has the potential of becoming. I have been quiet, not to exploit the situation, hoping that both sides could agree on a peaceful resolution. However, your move to buy a trademark for the sole purpose of getting away with infringing on the CandySwipe trademark and goodwill just sickens me.

 

This also contradicts your recent quote by Riccardo in "An open letter on intellectual property" posted on your website which states, "We believe in a thriving game development community, and believe that good game developers – both small and large - have every right to protect the hard work they do and the games they create."

 

I myself was only trying to protect my hard work.

 

I wanted to take this moment to write you this letter so that you know who I am. Because I now know exactly what you are. Congratulations on your success!

Sincerely,
Albert Ransom
President (Founder), Runsome Apps Inc.

Link to confusion between CandySwipe and Candy Crush Saga

Link to Trademark Opposition - http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/v?pno=91210162&pty=OPP&eno=9

Link to recent Gamezebo article featuring this story.

 

I post this here because I think this story needs to be spread far and wide (and so far has been).  It’s not a matter that the US trademark system is going to be fixed anytime soon and everyone knows that is the crux of the problem here.  That however is beyond our control for now… people have been crying for trademark reform for ages and change is occurring at a glacial pace.

 

That said, we can certainly shame companies that stifle competition through abusive lawsuits.  The worst part is, these companies make it harder for companies that legitimately want to protect their IP rights.  In this day and age, a small developer ( basically any without a legal team ) are pretty much at the mercy of another company that want to simply clone their game.  The world of indie game development is moving towards a world where he/she with the largest legal budget wins and I think most of us never want to see that happen.  At least, those of us that aren't loaded or lawyers that is.

 

King certainly isn’t the only villain here.  Even a company I deeply love, Bethesda, was guilty of abusing an overly broad trademark ( Scrolls ).  They took a run at Notch of Minecraft fame.  The difference in that story is, Minecraft has sold a bazillion copies and had the resources to fight back.  Notch basically won but the outcome left everyone else basically just as vulnerable.  So, from this point on, Scrolls is basically off limit in your game name.  Had Notch not had piles of money, he would have probably been forced to concede without a fight.

 

But King are a special kind of awful.  First they applied for the overly broad Candy trademark ( awarded in the UK, pending in US I believe ), basically baring other video games from using Candy in the title, even ones created (and trademarked!) years ago.  As is obvious from this activity, they intend to use this trademark, no matter how stupid it was.  But this isn’t their only action, they also opposed ( the much more sane ) Trademark application of Stoic’s The Banner Saga as apparently the use of the word Saga is too close to Candy Crush Saga.  Fortunately Stoic are going to fight back.  Stoic pretty accurately sum up the indie spirit and oppositions in their comment:

 

“Two years ago, the three of us at Stoic set out to make an epic Viking game: The Banner Saga,” Stoic cofounder Alex Thomas said in a statement. “We did, and people loved it, so we’re making another one. We won’t make a Viking saga without the word Saga, and we don’t appreciate anyone telling us we can’t. King.com claims they’re not attempting to prevent us from using The Banner Saga, and yet their legal opposition to our trademark filing remains. We’re humbled by the outpouring of support and honored to have others stand with us for the right to their own Saga. We just want to make great games.”

 

So, what’s the best response to King?  Letting people know, as many people as possible.  Let the lay person know that this kind of crap is going to make their game selection worse.  Let developers know how toxic a landscape this will create.  Own a King published game?  Well, reviews on app stores are certainly a great forum to educate people!

 

Don’t look to the legal system for solutions, at least not in the short term.  It’s broken and wont be fixed for a very long time.  So the next most effective way of deterring a company like King from these abusive behaviors is by hitting them in the wallet.  The CandyJam protests were certainly a good start, but frankly, that’s most a matter of preaching to the choir.  The people that really need to know are the average consumers, and App Store comments are about the strongest voice we’ve got.  Uprating CandySwipe above Candy Crush Saga would certainly be an interesting way to start!  Of course, it would also be great to see CandySwipe use the money to crush this in court, as frankly most of the power comes from the mismatch in legal resources, not due to any standing under the law.  That said, the more of us that talk about this, the more likely it hit mainstream press and the more people that associate the name King with evil.

 

We shouldn’t live in a world where only the wealthy can defend themselves.  Sadly though, that is what we are becoming.

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