Hello Games has revealed that it has finally won a battle with Sky broadcasting over the right to include the word ‘Sky’ in the title of its game No Man’s Sky.
The news came as a surprise to many, partly because the battle had been going on secretly for three years, but also because the word Sky is a pretty fundamental part of the English language.
Of course battles like this are nothing new. Sky has been consistent in trying to claim exclusive rights to the three letter word which has been a part of the English language since around the 1300s, and Apple’s disputes with the Beatles-owned Apple Corps have been extensive enough to generate their own Wikipedia page.
In light of the news, we decided to revisit some of the most weird and wonderful trademark battles of recent years.
It’s like comparing Apples with Apples
As one of the biggest technology companies in the world it was only natural that one or two firms would attempt to cash in on the luxury branding of Apple’s products.
But what’s more surprising is that some of these firms have succeeded. Just last month Apple lost a court battle in China which means that handbag manufacturer Xintong can continue to use the IPHONE branding on its leather goods.
Back in 2012 Apple was ordered to pay US$60m to Chinese firm Proview to allow it to use the iPad name in China.
Apple claimed that it already had the right to the name iPad as a result of having previously bought the right to use it from Proview’s Taiwanese affiliate for a fraction of the cost of the eventual settlement.
But the firm’s biggest fight over the Apple name has been with Apple Corps, the company founded by the Beatles to manage the band.
Founded in 1968, Apple Corps predates Apple Inc. by almost a decade, and upon the foundation of what was then called Apple Computer sued the company for the exclusive right to use the Apple name.
The case was settled with an agreement that allowed both companies to use the name on the condition that Apple Computer did not enter the music business, which Apple then proceeded to do in 2001 with the launch of iTunes.
The resulting court battle lasted until 2006 when a judge ruled that Apple Inc.’s use of the name was legitimate. The conclusion of this legal battle paved the way for the Beatles to finally be made available through the iTunes store.
Sky reaches for the Skype
No Man’s Sky is not the first time Sky has attempted to flex its muscles over its three letter name.
A high profile win for Sky came in 2013, when it successfully managed to force Microsoft to change the name of its cloud-based drive solution from SkyDrive, which was later renamed OneDrive.
Then in 2015 an EU court ruled that the name of video chat software Skype is too similar to Sky and might cause consumer confusion simply by including the letters ‘s’, ‘k’ and ‘y’ next to one another.
For reference, here are some other commonly used words that include the word ‘sky’: whisky, skyscraper, skydiver, risky and frisky.
To be honest, we’re not sold on the judge’s reasoning. The BBC quotes the judge as saying, “Conceptually, the figurative element conveys no concept, except perhaps that of a cloud…[That] would further increase the likelihood of the element ‘Sky’ being recognised within the word element ‘Skype’, for clouds are to be found ‘in the sky’ and thus may readily be associated with the word ‘sky’.”
Thankfully the ruling did not mean that Microsoft was prevented from using the brand-name Skype, it just prevents it from being able to trademark its name and logo.
So it’s not so much the practical ramifications of the move as the principal of the thing. Microsoft has continued to use the Skype name to this day, but does so without being fully able to trademark it.
Tim Langdell finds the edge of the law
Some trademark fights come about because a company has blatantly ripped off the name of another in an attempt to benefit from its brand recognition and power. Others happen because of an entirely coincidental naming similarity that could end up confusing consumers.
And then there’s someone like Tim Langdell who seeks to use an old trademark to earn money from companies they have no association to.
In 2009 the game Edge by Mobigame was pulled from the App Store thanks to a copyright claim from Tim Langdell, who claimed to own the rights to the word thanks to his ownership of video game company Edge Games which he founded in 1990.
This was not the first time Langdell had flexed the trademark. Back in 2001 Namco had been prevented from bringing its fighting game Soul Edge to the UK under that name because of the trademark.
But the positive reception Edge had received in the press meant that this trademark claim was the first of Langdell’s to get a significant amount of attention in the press.
Things came to a head in 2010 when EA successfully sued Langdell to suspend his exclusive right to the word Edge after its game Mirrror’s Edge was claimed to infringe on his trademark.
We should also point out that Langdell was also involved in a court case with TechRadar’s owner Future Publishing over the logo of Edge Magazine. Langdell claimed that Future had stolen the logo from his games company, a logo which he claimed to have created in 1991.
When a court finally managed to have a look at the original logo file they found it had been created with Windows 95.
The court ruled in favor of Future.
Batman wipes the slate clean
This one’s a little different. It doesn’t involve two companies fighting over the use of a name, but instead involves one company suing Warner Bros. over the use of the phrase ‘clean slate’ in the Batman film ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.
That’s right, a company alleged that its trademark had been infringed by Batman and Catwoman in the fictional world of Gotham City.
The case was brought by Fortres Grand who make and sell a piece of software called, you guessed it, Clean Slate, which “Restores your computer to its original configuration discarding unwanted computer changes.”
For anyone who’s interested we actually have a guide on how to reset your pc right here.
So what was Fortres Grand’s issue with The Dark Knight Rises? Was it that it was a disappointing sequel to one of the best superhero movies of all time? Was it that Tom Hardy’s Bane wasn’t a patch on Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as the Joker?
No, it was that the phrase “clean slate” which was used a couple of times throughout the movie by Catwoman to refer to a piece of software that would erase all record of her criminal past.
When the claims were brought to court they were dismissed by the judge who said that “Warner Bros. ‘clean slate’ software only exists in the fictional world of Gotham; it does not exist in reality. This may seem to be a small point, but it has big ramifications for the consumer confusion analysis, which become apparent once you realize the argument that Fortres Grand has not made – and cannot make.”
The judge ruled that in essence this lack of existence of any actual software meant that consumer confusion would be unlikely.
For once, common sense appears to have prevailed in a court.
Microsoft gets off the Metro
Windows 8 is not high on the list of many people’s favourite operating systems. Its touch-focussed user interface felt unnecessary on the desktop, and many of the changes it introduced to the Windows ecosystem felt unintuitive and confusing.
But in court the un-intuitiveness of Microsoft’s operating system was the least of its worries. More of a problem was the name of Microsoft’s new user interface, Metro, which German retailer Metro AG claimed infringed on its copyright.
What’s funny here is not so much the contents of the case since the naming confusion is pretty obvious, but the fact that the Metro name has lived on long after Microsoft has legally had to stop using the name.
While Microsoft has encouraged the adoption of the term “Windows-8-style UI” to replace the trademark infringing Metro, this name has (unsurprisingly) never really caught on, and people continue to use the Metro name to this day.
Now, we wouldn’t want to claim that Microsoft has done anything wrong here, but it seems interesting that no catchy alternative to the name Metro has ever been provided.
Some might use that fact to suggest that Microsoft has inadvertently allowed the name to live on despite no longer being able to use it in an official capacity.
Some might suggest that, but not me. Just a good ol’ coincidence as far as we’re concerned.