Friday, June 11, 2010

Part 2 of NERD FIGHT! The Rifts Trademark Battle

Welcome back, one and all. Just a brief recap, for anyone with a short memory or who happened to miss Part 1 of this discussion. In the ongoing legal battle between Palladium Book (publisher of the Rifts RPG) and Trion Worlds (publisher of the upcoming Rift: Planes of Telera MMORPG), there have been some haymakers thrown. Some have hit for crushing impact, while others have missed hilariously in a cartoonish fashion. I have read the many, many pages of legal documents and now bring you the highlights.

In Part 1, the following distinctions were awarded:
  • Biggest waste of time
  • Most embarrassing argument
  • Funniest line
Let's continue, shall we? Read on for more, below the fold.

The award for Most Hilarious Reversal goes to: Trion!

This requires a little bit of explanation. In their various legal documents, Trion went to great lengths to show that there are many mitigating factors that prevent confusion between the Palladium Books property, Rifts, and the Trion Worlds property, Rift. Some of these are:
  1. Both companies use a "House Mark," which really just refers to a consistent company logo, with their properties. That's true, particularly on the "cover" of whatever is being displayed, be it a book or a website or box art or whatever.
  2. Trion Worlds uses "Rift" in conjunction with the additional title, "Planes of Telera," while Palladium uses it mostly as a stand-alone title for the game setting. That's pretty well true, though Palladium does use Rifts as a leader to its various related worlds and games, like the incredible and life-changing apocalyptic saga, Rifts Chaos Earth.
  3. Trion points out that fans and potential players of their game are already referring to Rift: Planes of Telera as "R:PoT" instead of its long title. That seems to be true.
All of that said, I'll ask Trion Worlds this question. Why, after pointing all of that out as your defense that Palladium's Rifts and your Rift will not be confused, did you select the website for your game to be No House Mark there. No additional title. Not the abbreviated, fan-used term. I'm not suggesting that is a bad choice, only that it seems to fly in the face of all of Trion's arguments for why its property is different from that of Palladium.

On a side note, I really did almost buy today (note the "s" in the domain), just to see what would happen. Then I decided that I couldn't live with myself if I were a cyber-squatter like whoever owns or the hack that operates Screw him and his jazz singing. He used to also list himself as an actor and a model, but I guess that wasn't working out since people discovered that his talents in such areas paled in comparison to mine. Now I have to learn to sing jazz to utterly defeat him.

The award for Most Damning Point goes to: Trion!

This part is actually pretty serious, and could spell doom for Palladium if true, I would think. Palladium owns the trademark to Rifts in a number of categories, and submitted the federal paperwork to prove it in some of their initial proceedings. This includes role-playing games, comics, movies, television shows, and video games. However, Trion Worlds claims that Palladium fraudulently obtained the trademark for use in video games in 1995 when it released the failed Rifts Game Master Companion software, which which many Rifts fans will be familiar. Basically, it was a character generator, and you can still download it from somewhere on the Palladium website.

Trion intends to filed a petition to cancel the trademark registration in the video game category on the grounds that 1) the Rifts Game Master Companion isn't a video game, and 2) there is no continuous use of the Rifts trademark in video games. The scary part about that is, both of those arguments are true.

Now, obviously since Palladium was granted the trademark in the first place (which you can read here), presumably based on the aforementioned character creator, then there is the possibility that such a utility is enough. Also, while Palladium hasn't exactly turned out a pile of video games on that trademark, it has been in talks or the development stages a number of times over the years. Maybe that's enough.

I can hear you asking the next question. Well, what about the Rifts: Promise of Power game for the N-Gage? Doesn't that count? You'd think so, but Trion further goes on to point out that the Promise of Power trademark is totally separate from the Rifts trademark. At no point in the filing for the federal trademark of "Promise of Power" is the word "Rifts" mentioned. I didn't see that document in with the rest of the legal stuff, so I looked it up. You can see it here if you don't want to take my word for it.

That has to be a big deal, right? Maybe it's a technicality, and maybe it doesn't even matter because Palladium has been in talks or development of a Rifts video game off and on for years, but what Trion says is true. There has never been a Rifts video game published under that trademark.

The award for Biggest Card Not Yet Played goes to: Palladium!

The popular theory on the old Intrawebs appears to be that Palladium's business relationship with Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney, who have optioned Rifts for a movie, will cause the big dogs to come to the rescue. I would be shocked beyond all belief if that were to happen.

My friends, I love Palladium. I love Rifts. However, many many many many Palladium fans, perhaps even most of them, vastly overestimate the power of the Rifts RPG and of Palladium Books in the marketplace. While Rifts and Palladium have been in many ways groundbreaking, and unquestionably influential, that doesn't equate to sitting at the big table. The investment made in a Rifts movie by the studios can't be significant from the perspective of those media giants. While JB may have high hopes for a Palladium movie, and while there may be a script, I don't think that this gives any cause for Mickey Mouse to come flying in to get entangled in Palladium's legal woes. Fans should not expect this to happen; if it does, then accept the surprise.

However, with all of that said, the one thing I see that could be a game-changer in this relationship is if Palladium's dealings with Bruckheimer include concrete contractual agreements, not just talks, about a video game tie-in with the movie. In fact, it could be argued that such a tie-in is intrinsically part of any action-adventure movie deal.

Let's pile up the "ifs" here a bit, but IF Palladium's original trademark is found not to be fraudulent, and IF contractual talks and failed developments are enough to maintain a trademark, and IF Palladium has documentation of video game development as a part of the Rifts movie deal, then that relationship could be a saving grace even without direct intervention from Jerry Bruckheimer or Disney. Lots of "ifs" there, but that could be Palladium's trump card.

And the beat goes on

It looks like Trion Worlds and Palladium Books are heavy into discovery right now, digging up dirt on one another for the escalation of the battle. As such, we should have lots more action coming in this case, and you know that you can count on Jason Richards cannot be trusted to provide all of your mostly uninformed, layperson, geeky interpretation.


Citizen Lazlo said...

This is getting kind of intense, my main concern is that Trion's strategy is to spend Palladium into the ground. And on a side note I think it's pretty obvious that this is all cutting into productivity, maybe they shouldn't have laid off the only full-time staff writer they had?

And that's not a critique of Wayne, his plate is always pretty full.

Jason Richards said...

And here we have an age-old problem of the small business. You're right on the money, Josh. For better or worse, it's always a battle between the time required to run the business and that required to create the product.

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