IPE: I Got Obsessed With Trademarks

And here’s what I found.

I’ve been getting obsessed with trademarks recently, and I uncovered a few topics of interest while looking up NCSoft trademarks as well as a few other companies.

It’s no surprise that NCSoft has allowed most of their trademarks to die; after all they don’t have a choice in the matter. Under US law, you need some commercial interest in a trademark in order to keep renewing it. So Dungeon Runners, Exteel, Tabula Rasa, etc, are all dead. The only names of note that haven’t been cancelled are ones that haven’t come up for renewal such as Master x Master and Carbine Studios. Even City of Heroes and Wildstar, two titles I will talk about below, have been cancelled.

Trademarks are often included in the rumor mill for clickbait websites and renewals regularly lead to rampant speculation on new games. 99% of the time this is a misinterpretation. All trademarks require regular renewal and for most companies those renewals are almost automated at this point. A trademark renewal doesn’t mean a new product is coming out. Microsoft for instance can continue renewing the Fable trademark as long as the game is available for sale. A company can shove a barely functioning version of their 1990s game on Steam and legally still have a commercial interest in renewing their trademark indefinitely.

The real news is when a trademark is cancelled, in my scholarly opinion, because it’s the most definitive proof that a company with certainty has no more vested interest in a property. Even more so when they try to revive a cancelled trademark because that means they are trying to work on something.

So let’s talk about some trademarks.

Gamigo is fighting Disney: That’s right. Gamigo is taking on the big house of mouse. Gamigo has filed legal opposition against Disney of all people, as Disney attempts to register a trademark for one of their newest superheroes. That hero? You guessed it; Nadeen Hassan. Or as she’s better known; Glyph. Gamigo is seriously posing to the trademark board that when people see the Marvel superhero Glyph that they will mistake it as being associated with the name of a platform hosting those dying MMOs (plus Trove) that were salvaged from Trion’s corpse.

Now I’ve seen this referred to as trademark trolling and respectfully that’s not the case. Trademark trolling is when a company squats on a trademark to use for lawsuits, which Gamigo isn’t doing. Trademark, unlike copyright, requires an almost rabid-level show of defense. So Gamigo is filing this challenge likely not because they genuinely believe that they will win but because they need to be seen as defending their own trademark. This also isn’t the same as a lawsuit, it’s more like Gamigo asking to speak to the trademark office’s manager.

I didn’t uncover this one on my own. Credit goes to user Zornar on the Rift forums for finding this gem.

City of Heroes: NCSoft has been trying to revive the City of Heroes trademark since 2019. We don’t know why, we don’t know what for, but we do know that they aren’t having much luck. The trademark office is well aware that the City of Heroes trademark was cancelled once due to non-use and that NCSoft hasn’t started using it again. And unlike when Gamigo tells the public that Rift has a healthy future ahead of it, NCSoft can’t lie to the trademark board about active use.

My completely unfounded theory with this and Wildstar is that NCSoft is at least internally figuring out the logistics of sanctioned private servers. Even if they have the server operators send them $1, it would still count as commercial interest and allow NCSoft to retain the trademarks.

Global Agenda: We know about this one already. Hi-Rez Studios says they might have a Global Agenda ready for public consumption by Q4 2022, which is fitting since if they don’t they’ll have to apply for the trademark a third time. Like many I assumed Global Agenda was out of Hi-Rez Studios’ mind when Paladins and Rogue Company released, but as of 2021 they are still interested in the property.

Wildstar: This one surprised me more than City of Heroes because City of Heroes at least has the ongoing “negotiations” between NCSoft and the private server teams. I had no inkling or reason to believe that NCSoft cared about Wildstar, at least not enough to continue fighting for the name after the game shut down. They haven’t shown that same courtesy to anything else in their library and Wildstar wasn’t exactly a hot property nor was it a breakout success.

The Carbine Studios name is still trademarked but that’s only because the renewal date was in 2017, and the studio shut down in 2018. As for Wildstar, NCSoft has been filing renewal applications as late as 2020 and asked for another extension to show use just in February. Unlike Hi-Rez with Global Agenda, they haven’t provided any context to these filings.

There’s a fair likelihood that nothing comes out of any of these trademark renewals, but considering these are properties that have no commercial presence otherwise it does mean that we will get an answer. Either something will come of it, or the trademarks will exceed their extension period and be denied/cancelled again. MMO Fallout will be there when one of those things happens.