27 January, 2014

King.com Trademarks "Candy" - Discussion About the Mark

Mobile games have become huge in the last 10 years, with app sales having been predicted to reach 26 billion dollars in 2013 alone, making the field of mobile gaming incredibly lucrative. Examples like Angry Birds and Clash of Clans have shown that great monetary incentives lie in the production of simple, time-wasting games for your commute, and many others have succeeded in doing so as well. A recent example of immense success is a game called Candy Crush Saga made by the developer King.com, which in its simplicity consists of the alignment of icons in particular patterns, scoring points by destroying the patters and furthering your progress in the game. The game has been downloaded over 100 million times on the Android platform, while achieving great success on its iOS counterpart as well.

In a recent move, King.com have registered the term "candy" in relation to games and clothing, having been marked for approval in late January. This has created quite the uproar in the mobile gaming community, and I felt it would be appropriate to address the situation from a more legal stand-point given the discussion surrounding the potential mark.

Candy Crush, the analog game
In the US a trademark, under 15 USC § 1127, is defined as "...any word, name, symbol, or design, or any combination thereof, used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from those of another and to indicate the source of the goods". The mark has to be subsequently used in commerce, something which King.com clearly have done in using it in the name of a commercial application, and it has to be distinctive in order to distinguish the application from others in the category it is registered in. Distinctiveness has been divided into four categories in relation to trademarks: arbitrary/fanciful, suggestive, descriptive, and generic. How each of the aforementioned categories distinguish the goods or services varies: "If a mark is categorized as either arbitrary/fanciful or suggestive, it is considered to be inherently distinctive and exclusive rights to the mark are determined solely by priority of use. A trademark that is categorized as descriptive is only protectable as a trademark if it has acquired a secondary meaning in the minds of the consuming public. Secondary meaning is also necessary to establish trademark protection for a personal name or a geographic term. Generic terms are never eligible for trademark protection because they refer to a general class of products rather than indicating a unique source. A mark may be generic ab initio and refused registration, or it may become generic over time through use".

As can be observed from the above, King.com's alleged trademark could be seen as legitimate under law, assuming it satisfies all of the requirements. This writer for one would argue that the mark would fall under either a descriptive mark or a generic mark, which leaves the mark under some level of scrutiny should it face litigation. Clearly the term "candy" is not inherently distinctive awarding it clear protection, especially since there are prior instances where the term has been used in conjunction with games. The connection between the mark and the goods or services would have to be assessed by the courts on an individual basis, as there is no set metric to assess this.

So can King.com enforce their trademark, and above all else, should they? This would be yes, at least from a legal stand-point. If an entity does not actively protect their trademarks they will lose them. In the game company's position the enforcement of the marks is the only option. They have already begun to enforce the mark to an extent, at least against other game developers. The mark will undoubtedly be heavily challenged, especially due to its 30-day contest period, and could be revoked as a result.

The discussion around the mark can be argued as being legitimate, and should pose some critique about the laws surrounding trademarks. In the same vein we should not ban all 'generic' terms outright, as they can still easily distinguish goods or services given the right type of goods or services and the right area where they operate. King.com's intentions are legitimate, which is to protect the intellectual property rights they own; however that does not mean they should not be open to criticism as a result. Some of the aforementioned discussion has been riddled with inaccuracies or even outright hyperbole, prompting this writer to give some insight into the matter. Even so, I for one will follow this with curiosity, and enjoy the fact that situations like this bring intellectual priority matters into a more of a public sphere, prompting discussion.

Source: Android Police

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