Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rifts Lawsuit Settlement? Call Your Shot.

Good afternoon, dear Internet. It appears that it may be a great day for fans of Rifts, but we don't yet know any details. It was reported today on the amazing livingdice.com that the Trion Worlds versus Palladium Books legal battle may have finally come to a close.

If you're just joining us and don't want to go through the whole story as I lay it out here, for the past several months the video game developer, Trion Worlds, and the RPG publisher, Palladium Books, have been in a war of words and letters and statements over Palladium's claim to hold the trademark for naming a video game "Rifts." This, naturally, was a big deal to Trion and their in-development MMO, Rift: Planes of Telera. There are numerous side issues and developments, but ultimately Palladium wants the name of Trion's game to be changed, while Trion claims that Palladium's trademark is invalid or even fraudulent.

But, as it appears that this has now been somehow settled out of court, and as we have no official announcement as to the terms, it's time to do what any good citizen of the Internet would do given this situation: speculate! Let's examine how this could have gone, and then you can go on record with how you think it played out.

Read on for more.

I thought we'd start out with the best and worst scenarios for each side, and the best possible win-win. Before I do that, however, I wanted to reiterate two things. First, while I'm a contracted freelancer for Palladium Books, I don't have any inside knowledge on this case in any way. I haven't spoken to anyone at Palladium about it at all through this process. Second, I'm rooting for Palladium all the way. While I don't feel like Trion has taken on the "Rift" title in an effort to play the bully in this situation, or to take advantage of Palladium's weakened condition, I do feel like Palladium has legitimate complaints on at least some of its key points. I want Palladium to emerge from this victorious, whether that means beating Trion in court, or getting a deal that helps to pump some much-needed fuel into Palladium's engine. So, that said...

Palladium's best case scenario: Judging that Palladium's long history of branding regarding Rifts would win the day, Trion acquiesced on all points, officially dropping "Rift" from the title of their new game, abandoning all marketing that utilized that title, and giving up its "riftgame.com" domain. Further pressed and now on the defensive, Trion also agreed to pay Palladium's court costs to date, perhaps even with a sweetener. After all, the popular theory is that Trion has more money than they know what to do with, anyway.

Trion's best case scenario: It's a game of chicken, and Palladium blinked. Despite the fact that Palladium is justified in protecting its trademark in court, it appeared to Palladium's legal team that Trion may have a legitimate case that the Rifts video game trademark is invalid, or at least a case legit enough to take to a civil trial. Palladium, its resources expended, was forced to either stand on principle and go under, or take the best deal possible. The best deal in this case means simply that Trion ceases its lawsuit which seeks to invalidate Palladium's Rifts video game trademark, and agrees to stay out of the pen and paper RPG market.

The win-win: Trion, unwilling to abandon the title of its flagship MMO, has decided that there is some risk if they go to court. Not wanting to be yet another large California company seen to be beating up on the little guy, Trion agrees to pay a license fee to Palladium Books for use of the "Rift" title, thus cementing Palladium's trademark, recovering the legal expenses, and buoying a company that has been struggling for several years.

So, ready to place your bets?

As for me, I feel like this has to be an advantageous situation for Trion if it's going to settle. As much time and money as Palladium has put into the case, Trion is bound to have spent far more in marketing, probably even solely at E3. I feel like they have the upper hand in terms of venue, resources, and at least in some points, the law.

At the same time, Palladium Books has positioned this fight as one of principle, and I believe that's accurate. Small companies in particular must fight to protect their trademarks in court, whenever they're challenged. However this settlement has played out, I believe that in order for Palladium to accept it, they must emerge with a moral victory on which to stand.

So, I'm calling my shot as this:

1. Trion does not change the name of their MMO, and it remains "Rift: Planes of Telera." Palladium agrees in writing that Trion is not attempting to trade on Palladium's established good faith in the marketplace.
2. Trion acknowledges Palladium's right to the "Rifts" name in the realm of video games, including verbiage in their marketing and literature that notes that Trion and R:PoT is not associated with Palladium Books. This offers support for Palladium's trademark and allows them to continue to seek publication of video games licensed from their flagship RPG.
3. Trion modifies its domain name for R:PoT, giving up "riftgame.com" in favor of something more precise that doesn't invoke images of Glitter Boys and Ley Line Walkers.
4. Trion pays some relatively small, but undisclosed amount to Palladium as part of the settlement.

I'm now on record, so now it's your turn. How do you see this going down?


Shini said...

riftgame.com already has a disclaimer that they are not associated with Palladium Books, I don't remember seeing this last time I looked at the page so I think it's new.

Jason Richards said...

Interesting. I seem to remember something about that from way back, but I could be making that up. You very well could be right.

Shawn Merrow said...

The disclaimer has been up for several months.

I'm glad this is coming to end and hopefully a good outcome for Palladium Books.

anonynos said...

I don't really have a dog in this fight, but ever since I read about this suit I've personally sided with Trion. I know you have to defend copyright and all that, but the term "Rift" isn't exactly a word Sembida invented. I'll concede some "Oh, now that you mention it I see the similarity" to it but your "Palladium wins it all" scenario would seem to me to be a gross miscarriage.

I'm going with Trion paying some sort of license fee, adding in disclaimers but otherwise maintaining as they have been. I think at this stage re-branding their game would be to expensive for them to settle on it. But I'm often baffled at legal claims that win so who knows.

Steve Dubya said...

There's a couple of bits to look for as I'm pretty sure that we won't get any sort of clear answer directly from either company as to what the fallout of this might be:

1) If Trion changes the name of the game, it would seem like a pretty easy way of ending the whole mess. However, that seems unlikely given their current ad campaign.

2) As time progresses, look for some sort of note on the Trion site (or packaged materials that the game might be sold in) indicating that the name "Rifts" is being used under license from Palladium.

3) Additionally, periodically check on the status of the TM's in question on the .gov site; changes made to either of those might give some indication of the fallout.

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