King Candy’s Trademark Attempt at Crushing The Banner Saga
Stoic has resolved things peacefully with King and is being allowed to use its chosen name, but is not able to register a trademark to protect its own brand. Basically, King is allowing The Banner Saga to exist (with that title), but really, King shouldn’t have had any say in the matter. (Note: The facts of the agreement between King and Stoic Studio were confidential, so this take on things is strictly from my point of view.)
Normally, we would fault the United States Patent and Trademark Office for not knowing the difference between a mobile game and a Steam game. After all, it’s their job to evaluate the marks and prevent “consumer confusion,” or the idea that a gamer wouldn’t be able to tell one game wasn’t from the other company. It’s also the USPTO’s job to know saga is clearly a descriptive term, which was another big miss on their part. But when you see King’s other applications, it’s much easier to keep my finger pointed squarely at them – they seem to have a history of overreaching with their trademarks. Its trademark covers things ranging from “lifesaving” equipment, to “regulating or controlling electricity.” Yes, King thinks lifesaving equipment called “Saga” might lead you to think you were accidentally playing a smartphone game. Remind me not to ask for their help if I’m dying.
But fine, I’ve seen overreaching trademarks before. Just because King’s trademark applies to lifesaving equipment doesn’t necessarily mean the company is going to create problems for people trying to brand their actual lifesaving equipment. It’s much more about how trademarks are used, whether it’s to truly protect the company’s brand, or to troll an innocent community. Basically, owning a trademark allows you to tell someone else to stop using the word you have protected or face a very damaging lawsuit. Companies can wield this power as a shield, defending their brand from impersonators, or as a sword, swinging it wildly at anyone and everyone who comes even close to their mark.
Looking back to what happened with The Banner Saga, you can see King does the latter. “Saga” is a Norse word for “epic” or “long story.“ It’s a descriptive term used throughout not only gaming history, but storytelling in general. And if you remember from our Apple example above, no one is supposed to be able to trademark a descriptive term. Further, no game deserves to use the word “saga” more than one about Vikings! Instead, we have a cartoony puzzle game being able to say, “Nope. It’s ours.”
While the drama between King and Stoic was going on, another company called Runsome Apps was fighting its own battle against King, claiming Candy Crush was a rip-off of “Candy Swipe,” a game Runsome had put out two years earlier. Whether that was true will never be known, because instead of defending Candy Crush on its own merits, King just went back and bought an even older trademark called Candy Crusher. Yes, instead of trying to prove to the world its game was not a clone of someone else’s take on the match-3 genre, King just spent some of their limitless bank account and bought the oldest “candy” trademark they could find. That’s it. King wins.
Unfortunately, what’s permissible legally is not always what is right morally. Here, King clearly showed which path it leans toward. I know the Internet was outraged when King blocked Stoic’s trademark, and I know the gaming community called foul. But, like with most things, we forget and move on. Let us remember this treachery, and remember it loudly.
Because King won’t forget the power it has been allowed as it holds its sword to the throat of the gaming community. It let The Banner Saga live in chains, but what about the next developer who dares to use a word that King deems to be its own? How do you comfortably put a game into the market place, knowing you can be bullied around with absolutely no warning? The precedent set here allows for the companies with the biggest bank accounts to roll over everyone else, and that is a scary thing.
Crush the “Saga” mark, please.
Bar Games is a collaboration between Ryan Morrison, a practicing attorney in New York specializing in video game and technology law who is often found answering gaming legal questions on Reddit as “VideoGameAttorney” (Follow him on Twitter!) and Janelle Bonanno, GameFront’s Editor-in-Chief, a recovering intellectual property attorney who is somehow still licensed to practice in New York and New Jersey (Follow her on Twitter!).