Music game lawsuit chain

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Jul 112008

Just to keep things straight…

Konami is suing Harmonix over music game patents. Harmonix is owned by Viacom, which bought them because they owned patents on music games themselves, which everyone thought made Activision’s purchase of Red Octane, which published Guitar Hero, kind of funny since they got the brand but not the underlying IP, though then Activision accused Harmonix of being imitative of… itself when Rock Band was announced; and proceeded to have a different developer make the game. Naturally, Konami started out by having patents on Guitar Freaks, though in fact MTV (Viacom) also owned patents on drum games themselves already, and Konami is now also making their own full-band game. Activision apparently has a license on the Konami stuff (did Red Octane?), but they’re getting sued by Gibson who have a patent on music games as well, even though the Gibson guitars were in Guitar Hero based on a licensing deal. Activision did buy a bunch of other patents, and lists them in the game’s docs, though. No word on whether the dispute over royalties supposedly owed to Harmonix, now Viacom, by Red Octane, now Activision Blizzard, over whether the Guitar Hero sequels are new games or the same game with new content, has been resolved. There was a lawsuit about that too, but they decided to negotiate instead.

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  15 Responses to “Music game lawsuit chain”

  1. What in the freaking heck? Seriously, that still hurts my head even in its simplified form.

  2. Heck, doesn’t PaRappa the Rapper have prior art on all of them?

  3. Oh dear lord. My brain just exploded I think. This just demonstrates why patents are broken I think. You can’t even tell who has the rights to what anymore.

  4. Abbot and Costello?

  5. I’m glad we have patents to promote innovation. Imagine where we would be without them!

  6. Who’s on first?

  7. Relocate to Europe and switch to online distribution…

  8. Man, if I was a lawyer, I’d be wiping drool off my chin after reading that. 😛

  9. So if a gamer creates content in a game that claims all rights to said content, then goes to another game and re-creates the same content, that gamer can go directly to jail and not collect $200 ?

  10. The mechanics of those games are so basic, that it is embarrassing that people can claim rights on them. Making music is intrinsically about hitting something in time, which is called a rythm. So it looks like the genius patents are on the same level as patenting loading bars or playing a game while loading and other no-brainer stuff. I only wait for the day when an american patents “the act of inhaling air in order to charge blood with oxygen”. I now have confidence.

  11. To be fair, we don’t really know what the particular patents *are* because Raph only summarized. It’s still broken because of this insanity, but it’s not very likely that they’re bickering over patents about the broader concept of “a music game”. It’s much more likely they’re bickering over patents regarding the peripherals, UI elements, and code assets rather than complete intangibles like “rythm” and “games about playing music”.

    It’s still crazy. Everyone involved in these suits are making large sums of money off of their game sales. They don’t need to be trying to kill each other via the courts.

  12. Obviously, the time has come for legal battles to be fought using remote-controlled mecha. Now I’m going to resist searching for an existing patent on that.

  13. hmmm… rock’em sock’em robot court cases… sounds like fun! that is after i find the pieces of my head and put them back together with duct tape.

  14. IIIIIIIII’m my own grandpa!!!


  15. […] Ralph Koster outlines the tangled web of patents covering the popular world of music-based video games. A patent thicket describes when several patents cover a single product, owned by several different groups. Music based video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band are finding themselves mixed up in a web of lawsuits. First Konami is suing Harmonix for patents on music games, even though Harmonix has its own assortment of music game patents (including a patent on a “game controller simulating a musical instrument”). Konami previous made GuitarFreaks and is looking to get back into the music game genre since Harmonix help make it such a success (more than Konami ever did). […]

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