Demystifying Trade Marks and Games

Trade marks are one of the most important ways to protect a game legally, but they are frequently misunderstood – as much through ignorance as anything else.  So, this post explains what trade marks are, what they do, when you can protect them and when you can’t.

Usual caveat applies: this post just signposts some of the key legal issues – if you actually have trade mark issues you need to talk about, let me know.

What is a trade mark?

Trade marks are signs (like logos or brand names) used so that customers can recognise your goods and services and distinguish them from the goods and services of your competitors.  Here’s an example:


 Trade marks are important to a business because they prevent competitors from confusing customers into thinking that they are buying products and services from a trusted, known source when in fact they’re not. In other words, they can be used to stop your rivals stealing your customers.

Example: You’re a developer and release a game called TrademarkVille, over which you register a trade mark. A rival developer then releases a very similar game called Trademark City. If customers purchase your rival’s game Trademark City because they wrongly conclude that you made it, or that it is actually your game TrademarkVille, then in principle you may have a trade mark infringement case.

Four key points you need to know about trade marks:

  • To be fully effective, they need to be registered. This is complex, so you should take legal advice to register and keep them.
  • If you operate internationally, you may need to get foreign trade mark protection too.
  • They can last indefinitely, but need to be renewed every 10 years.
  • Practically, trade marks are helpful in two situations: (1) you can sell/assign/leverage them; and (2) you can use them to stop trade mark infringement by a rival (aka ripping you off).

I’m going to explore this last point about trade mark infringement further today, because that is what often generates the most heat.

Trade mark infringement

As a broad summary:

  • If you use an identical or similar trade mark to sell identical or similar goods and services to a trade mark which has already been registered,
  • then you may be infringing that registered trade mark if your trade mark creates a likelihood of confusion on the part of the public (whether that confusion is mistaken or not).

So trade mark infringement DOESN’T just mean that if your trade mark is similar to another guy’s registered trade mark, then you are automatically infringing his trade mark (or vice versa). There would have to be that ‘likelihood of confusion’.  What happens in practice when one developer claims another has infringed his/her trade mark? To explain this, I’m going to look at two examples, with which I was personally acquainted, that generated some heat – Lima Sky and Edge Games.

Lima Sky and the ‘Doodle Jump’ trade mark

Lima Sky, developer of the hit mobile game Doodle Jump, registered a US trade mark for “Doodle Jump”. But soon after Doodle Jump became a huge hit, rival games with the word ‘Doodle’ in their title began to appear (a quick look at the iOS App Store shows such games as Doodle Hockey, D.O.O.D.L.E and – slightly worryingly – Doodle Dump, among many others). Lima Sky were not happy.

But things really exploded when (according to Igor Pusenjak, founder of Lima Sky) a rival applied for a US trade mark over the phrase ‘Doodle’. Lima Sky felt it had no choice but also to apply defensively for a trade mark over ‘Doodle’. On top of that, Lima Sky’s lawyers advised it to ask Apple to take down some of the Doodle type games on its App Store. All this caused just a bit of a ruckus (more on that later) and two of the questions levelled at Lima Sky were (i) ‘how can you claim you own the word “Doodle”’ and (ii) ‘how can you try to stop other Doodle type games?’

As to the first question, registering a trade mark doesn’t mean you own the word ‘Doodle’ or ‘Face’ or ‘Apple’ to do with as you please. It simply means that, provided you can meet the trade mark infringement test outlined above, you can use your registered trade mark to stop a rival ripping you off or even shutting you down.

As to the second question, actually I think there was some legal force in Lima Sky’s arguments:

  • The rival Doodle games were using a trade mark which is arguably ‘similar’ to Lima Sky’s (e.g. compare Doodle Hockey and Doodle Jump) for ‘similar goods and services’ (i.e. they are all casual mobile games sold on the iOS App Store).
  • There is at least some ‘likelihood of confusion on the part of the public’ because Doodle Jump is a massive hit on the App Store and customers may be fooled into thinking that a game with ‘Doodle’ in the title is either Doodle Jump itself or was at least made by Lima Sky.
  • Plus, once Lima Sky became aware of these rival Doodle games, if they didn’t try to stop them they ran the run of weakening or even losing their own trade mark.

(Obviously, that’s not to say that Lima Sky were definitely right, since trade mark cases are never this straightforward in reality.  However, in this case Lima Sky came in for a deal of criticism from the typically vocal games industry and, as a result, appear to have withdrawn at least some of their claims. Who ends up owning the ‘Doodle’ trade mark remains to be seen.

Edge Games and the ‘Edge’ trade mark

Tim Langdell probably needs no introduction to you. Over the last few years, he spent a lot of time and money attempting to shut down seemingly any and all uses of the phrase ‘Edge’ in the games industry – from the games magazine Edge to Mobigames’ game also called Edge. In 2010, Langdell sued EA over its game Mirror’s Edge. It didn’t work out well for him: he received a stinging verdict from a US court which found that, not only was there no likelihood of confusion between his Edge trade mark and EA’s, but Langdell had actively falsified the material which he used to obtain his trade mark in the first place. Cue public embarrassment and ridicule in the games industry, plus probably a hefty legal bill.

The moral of the story: just having a trade mark doesn’t mean you and you alone control anything to do with it. And if you take your claim all the way and lose, it can have serious consequences for your business. It also means it is vital to get your trade mark registered properly in the first place.

Top tips for developers

So, hopefully that has given you an idea about what trade marks are and how they work. To round this post off, here’s some top tips for developers:

  • Do your homework: when you’re designing your game, check to see if there are already released games with similar content/names/logos to your designs. You can do some of this yourself both on the Web and (in the UK) using the IPO database here, or…
  • Have a word with a friendly games lawyer: a little legal advice early on can save a lot of time and money later, especially since the process of registering and defending trade marks is complex. 
  • If you have a problem with another developer misusing your trade mark (or vice versa), you must act, but think carefully first. Is the other developer just making an innocent mistake which you can talk through with them? Or are they actively trying to copy your product and take your customers such that a fight is inevitable? Can you use third parties, like Apple, to make your life easier via takedown requests? Can you enlist your player base or the games press to help?
  • BUT, don’t just be guided by legal factors alone. Think about how much a legal fight would cost, how much time you have to devote to it, what your player base or partners would think of you. It may be a result that a negotiated settlement is better than an all out fight.
  • Don’t forget your safest bet is to make sure your games are better than your rivals’. The legal steps outlined above can be a defence to attacks against your business, but only good products can grow your business and ensure your player stay with you rather than go to a rival.

One last thing: where one game copies another, it usually raises issues of copyright as well as trade mark law. So, next month, I’ll be writing about demystifying copyright and games…

Follow us at or subscribe to our email updates here.

20 thoughts on “Demystifying Trade Marks and Games”

  1. Interesting read that.

    It's a clever law really, restrictive enough to protect businesses but not so restrictive as to stifle productivity, in a modern age where being original is becoming harder by the minute.

    And Langdell, I guess that is what gamers call a "fail".

  2. I truly wanted to post a quick word to be able to thank you for the fabulous strategies you are giving at this site. My extended internet look up has now been recognized with wonderful content to go over with my close friends. I ‘d suppose that most of us visitors actually are very fortunate to live in a decent community with many wonderful individuals with good tips. I feel rather grateful to have discovered your entire weblog and look forward to really more exciting times reading here. Thank you once again for everything.

  3. Thank you for every one of your efforts on this site. My mum takes pleasure in setting aside time for internet research and it’s really easy to see why. Most people notice all about the dynamic manner you make practical techniques via this web site and as well as foster participation from some others on that situation while my girl is undoubtedly understanding a whole lot. Have fun with the rest of the new year. You’re conducting a terrific job.

  4. I must get across my appreciation for your generosity for men and women that really want help with in this area of interest. Your special dedication to passing the message all around turned out to be amazingly informative and have constantly made those like me to realize their goals. Your personal helpful help means a great deal to me and still more to my colleagues. Warm regards; from everyone of us.

  5. I not to mention my guys were found to be following the best information and facts located on your website and then immediately got a terrible feeling I had not thanked the blog owner for those secrets. All the men had been so happy to study all of them and have in fact been taking pleasure in these things. Appreciation for actually being quite considerate and then for picking out these kinds of extraordinary tips millions of individuals are really desperate to know about. My personal honest regret for not expressing appreciation to earlier.

  6. Needed to post you the tiny observation in order to thank you over again for all the splendid basics you’ve documented on this site. It has been wonderfully generous with you to allow unreservedly exactly what a few individuals would have supplied as an electronic book in order to make some profit for their own end, most notably seeing that you might have tried it in the event you decided. The basics in addition worked as the fantastic way to fully grasp most people have a similar eagerness similar to mine to realize whole lot more on the topic of this matter. I think there are several more pleasurable sessions up front for folks who take a look at your blog.

  7. My wife and i got very joyful that Albert could do his basic research through the precious recommendations he acquired from your own web site. It is now and again perplexing to just continually be releasing guidance that many others have been making money from. And we all recognize we’ve got the writer to give thanks to for that. The type of explanations you made, the easy website navigation, the relationships you will help to create – it’s mostly unbelievable, and it’s really assisting our son and the family do think the content is enjoyable, which is pretty serious. Thank you for all!

  8. Thanks a lot for giving everyone a very terrific chance to discover important secrets from this site. It’s usually so brilliant plus full of a great time for me and my office co-workers to search the blog at the least 3 times in 7 days to find out the new things you will have. And of course, I’m so usually satisfied with all the fantastic hints you give. Selected 3 points in this post are undeniably the best I have had.

  9. I in addition to my pals were actually looking at the excellent tips on the blog and so suddenly I got an awful feeling I never expressed respect to the web blog owner for those strategies. All of the guys were definitely for that reason happy to read all of them and already have in actuality been enjoying those things. Many thanks for indeed being considerably helpful and for making a choice on this kind of brilliant areas most people are really eager to learn about. Our own honest regret for not expressing gratitude to you earlier.

  10. I precisely desired to thank you very much once again. I am not sure what I would have made to happen without the actual suggestions shared by you on my topic. This has been a frustrating scenario in my view, nevertheless discovering this well-written manner you processed the issue made me to jump over delight. Now i am happier for the assistance and as well , believe you know what a powerful job you have been doing instructing people today all through your blog post. I’m certain you’ve never got to know any of us.

  11. I simply wanted to say thanks all over again. I am not sure what I would’ve implemented without these creative ideas revealed by you directly on that concern. This was a very troublesome setting in my opinion, but viewing your specialized style you dealt with that made me to cry with happiness. I am happy for this advice and in addition expect you really know what a powerful job you were carrying out training the mediocre ones through your web page. More than likely you’ve never encountered all of us.

  12. I want to voice my affection for your generosity supporting those who actually need help on your study. Your personal commitment to passing the message all over has been incredibly good and have consistently made folks much like me to get to their aims. Your helpful hints and tips denotes much to me and additionally to my peers. Thanks a lot; from each one of us.

  13. I really wanted to write a simple message in order to appreciate you for some of the great suggestions you are posting at this site. My incredibly long internet lookup has now been recognized with incredibly good facts and strategies to share with my great friends. I would declare that most of us readers are unquestionably blessed to exist in a really good site with very many brilliant individuals with helpful advice. I feel somewhat lucky to have seen the website and look forward to some more exciting minutes reading here. Thank you once more for everything.

  14. I’m commenting to make you be aware of of the outstanding experience my wife’s child had viewing your blog. She figured out lots of pieces, which include what it is like to have an incredible giving style to get men and women without hassle master chosen hard to do subject areas. You really exceeded her expected results. I appreciate you for presenting such insightful, healthy, informative and cool tips on your topic to Emily.

  15. I have to express some thanks to this writer just for bailing me out of this type of challenge. Because of scouting throughout the online world and seeing recommendations that were not pleasant, I was thinking my entire life was done. Being alive minus the solutions to the problems you have resolved by means of your main post is a serious case, as well as the kind that might have badly damaged my entire career if I had not noticed the blog. Your good knowledge and kindness in touching the whole lot was helpful. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I had not encountered such a point like this. I can also at this moment look forward to my future. Thanks for your time very much for this skilled and sensible guide. I won’t be reluctant to propose your web sites to anybody who needs to have guide about this matter.

  16. I wish to express my thanks to you for rescuing me from this dilemma. Just after browsing throughout the online world and finding advice which were not productive, I assumed my entire life was gone. Existing devoid of the solutions to the difficulties you have solved through this short article is a serious case, as well as those that might have in a wrong way affected my career if I hadn’t come across your web page. Your actual understanding and kindness in touching a lot of things was useful. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I hadn’t encountered such a stuff like this. I can at this moment relish my future. Thanks for your time very much for this professional and amazing help. I won’t think twice to recommend your site to anybody who needs guide on this area.

  17. I must show some appreciation to you for rescuing me from this challenge. Just after looking throughout the world wide web and meeting methods which were not productive, I assumed my entire life was well over. Living minus the strategies to the issues you have sorted out as a result of the guideline is a serious case, and the ones which might have adversely affected my entire career if I had not noticed your web page. Your actual ability and kindness in playing with every aspect was tremendous. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I had not encountered such a thing like this. It’s possible to at this moment look ahead to my future. Thanks for your time very much for your high quality and result oriented guide. I won’t be reluctant to refer your site to anyone who needs and wants guidance about this subject.

  18. I’m commenting to make you be aware of what a useful experience my cousin’s daughter found using your webblog. She picked up several things, which include how it is like to possess a marvelous helping style to let men and women effortlessly know specific tortuous subject areas. You really did more than people’s expected results. Thanks for providing such effective, trustworthy, revealing and in addition unique thoughts on that topic to Jane.

  19. Thanks so much for providing individuals with a very splendid chance to read from this blog. It’s always very superb and full of fun for me and my office co-workers to search your blog really 3 times every week to read through the latest tips you have. And indeed, I’m usually pleased with all the tremendous thoughts you serve. Some 2 points in this posting are basically the simplest we have all had.

  20. My wife and i have been quite lucky when Albert could complete his basic research out of the ideas he gained through the web site. It is now and again perplexing to just continually be offering information and facts which often others may have been selling. We acknowledge we need the website owner to appreciate because of that. The illustrations you have made, the easy website menu, the friendships your site aid to engender – it’s most terrific, and it’s facilitating our son in addition to the family recognize that this theme is pleasurable, which is certainly pretty indispensable. Thank you for everything!

Comments are closed.