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Rock Me Gently, Rock Me Slowly

In 2005, Red Octane was just another indy game developer hoping to make it big.  They made dance pads for DDR and did a home conversion of In The Groove.  They decided, since import action for Guitar Freaks was so big, to make a US version.  They hired Harmonix, the king of music games (Frequency and Amplitude) to make the game.  Hedging their bets, they also inked a deal with Gibson Guitars to use one of their models for a game controller.

In 2008, Guitar Hero is one of the biggest revenue generators in games.  Red Octane got bought by Activision.  Harmonix got bought by MTV and came out with their own version, Rock Band.  Activision, as the biggest game company on the planet, decided they didn't want to pay the licensing fees to Gibson anymore and canceled the contract.  Gibson then sued Activision in Tennessee, saying that the Guitar Hero controllers violated a patent that they held and asked for boku bucks.  They even let everyone know this was just Phase 1.  They were looking at suing Harmonix over Rock Band next, and even threatening retailers who sold the games.  Activision asked the US District Court in California to toss the suit and prevent Gibson from persuing damages.  Tennessee put the case on hold pending the outcome of the US District Court.

On Thursday, the US District Court tossed the suit and prevented Gibson from persuing damages.  "No reasonable person of ordinary skill in the relevant arts would interpret the '405 Patent as covering interactive video games.  Gibson would have this Court determine that any device that controls something that produces musical sounds is covered by the '405 Patent."  So sayeth Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer.

Given how nuts patent suits are, especially when used as an anti-competitive weapon or just payback (hence the Tux icon instead of a general video gaming icon), this is a breath of fresh air.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Mar. 3rd, 2009 04:11 am (UTC)
I agree that it's nice to see a patent lawsuit such as this get shot down. At the same time, I also feel that the game controller manufacturers should also cease making the controllers that are based on Gibson guitars (not pay the extra royalties the lawsuit wanted, just stop making THOSE controllers). To anyone who is really into music, the look of the Gibson SG is unmistakable. That shape is only available from Gibson and Epiphone (which is owned by Gibson). There are plenty of generic guitar styles that can be made into controllers, or other companies to strike a deal with (hell, I'd pay some cash for a Rickenbacher based controller).

Just my $0.019
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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