Blizzard to contest Valve’s DOTA trademark application?

I wrote earlier this month about the Legal Battle Brewing Over DOTA, a popular free to play Warcraft 3 mod which Valve is now planning to revamp and release commercially.  I said in that post that I think the fact that the DOTA IP is split across multiple developers means that we will see legal difficulties over both the copyright and trademark ownership of any commercial DOTA game.

It’s nice to be proven right every now and then. reports that Blizzard has publicly objected at Blizzcon 2010 to Valve’s attempt to register a trademark over DOTA.  Rob Pardo, Executive Vice President of Game Design at Blizzard, told Eurogamer: “To us, that means that you’re really taking it away from the Blizzard and Warcraft III community and that just doesn’t seem the right thing to do“.  It’s important to bear in mind that there is no indication that Blizzard is going formally to object to Valve’s application though – GI reported that “When asked what would happen in the event Valve were to object to Blizzard’s use of the term for Blizzard DOTA, Pardon claimed: “Our response is that they don’t own the term DOTA at this point. It’s something that they’re filing for. “

However, interestingly, at Blizzcon 2010 Blizzard has apparently also unveiled “Blizzard DOTA”, a free DOTA mod for Starcraft 2. 

So, you have Blizzard making noises about Valve not being in a position to trademark DOTA (even if technically Blizzard has said nothing about formally objecting to that application – so far).  At the same time, Blizzard wants to release its own (free) DOTA mod – which potentially could infringe Valve’s DOTA trademark if it is granted in the near future.  Then there’s the issue of actual ownership of the game IP as I’ve discussed previously.  Doesn’t look good.  Let’s hope that Valve and Blizzard can come to an agreement as to how their respective games can live together side by side, because otherwise it could get really legal…

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Opinion: the legal fight brewing over DOTA 2

UPDATE: Now Blizzard have begun to get involved a little more actively in the DOTA matter, which raises the stakes on the trademark front – see more from me on that here.

So, Valve announced DOTA 2 yesterday.  This is of course a sequel (of sorts) to the wildly popular Warcraft III custom map, Defense of the Ancients.  I’ve played a fair bit of DOTA in my time and was looking forward to Valve’s take on it, but beyond that I hadn’t paid much attention to it…until now.

Today this exposé/rant/hoax? appeared on the net, which has made me do a bit of further reading into DOTA 2’s development- which in turn has made me wonder if there is an almighty fight brewing over DOTA next year…

The story so far…

  • The first DOTA map went live – as best I can tell – around 2003
  • Subsequent versions were developed by at least three different devs.  One of them was Steve Feak, aka Guinsoo.  Another was Steve Mescon, aka Pendragon (who also ran the DOTA AllStars website).  The latest dev to work on DOTA was Abdul Ismail, aka Icefrog.
  • Mescon and Feak subsequently went to Riot Games which developed League of Legends, a DOTA type game.
  • S2 Games subsequently developed Heroes of Newerth, another DOTA type game.
  • More recently, Ismail announced he was joining Valve to make DOTA 2.
  • Valve subsequently applied for a trademark over “DOTA” which provoked a counter-filing from Riot Games for a trademark over “Defense of the Ancients” (I do not know what happened following that, but I assume both parties were granted or will be granted the trademarks they had applied for – though obviously there is scope for confusion between the two.)
  • Now, an anonymous Valve employee has written about Ismail.  I stress I have NO IDEA if it is genuine or not and it is quite possibly defamatory in parts even if other parts of it are true.  But what is interesting about the post is that it claims that Ismail had worked either with or for one or both of Riot and S2 prior to coming to Valve and unbeknown to Valve.  The allegation therefore is that Ismail does not own the DOTA content himself. 

Why there could be a fight over DOTA

You can see by now that, even if the Ismail rant is a hoax (which we don’t know for sure), the ownership of the DOTA IP looks like it could be a total mess.  You could see competing claims from:

  • Activision-Blizzard: the publisher of Warcraft III and which could claim IP ownership of UGC made for it – including custom maps like DOTA.
  • Any of the original developers of DOTA, plus Steve Mescon, Steve Feak and Abdul Ismail: these are the guys who made the original DOTA and could therefore claim rights in it.
  • Riot Games and S2 Games: they employ or worked with some of the original DOTA developers, allegedly including Ismail himself, and made DOTA type games themselves (which potentially they could argue are infringed by DOTA 2).  Riot Games has applied for the Defense of the Ancients trademark.
  • Valve: the prospective publisher of DOTA 2 itself and applicant for the DOTA trademark.

So, we have a situation in which multiple developers have worked on the same product and then gone in subsequent directions to different companies, in circumstances where very likely there has never been any formal agreement as to the ownership of the DOTA IP.  Then, on top of that, you have allegations that one of the developers may have worked for competing games companies all working on DOTA type games unbeknownst to anyone else, the implication being that he might thereby have misused confidential information.  AND finally, yet further, you have two rival games companies both making rival DOTA type games and filing for similar trademarks.

Sounds like a recipe for a legal battle to me.  All is that needed is the money – and if DOTA 2 is a big hit for Valve next year (as pretty much all of its games have been, ever), then we’ll see plenty of cash next year when the game is released.  Watch this space…

Image credit: PlayDota/Wikipedia

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