Activision Sues Gibson In Response To Claims That 'Guitar Hero' Violates Patent

from the it's-all-fun-and-games-until-someone-digs-up-a-patent dept

And now bogus patent threats are finding their way into the video game world, as Activision has filed for a declaratory judgment that it doesn’t infringe on a patent owned by Gibson, the well-known guitar company. It appears that Gibson owns a patent on “generating and controlling a simulated musical concert.” Reading through the patent, it appears to be quite different than Activision’s game. First off, the patent seems to clearly indicate that the instrument in question is a guitar, not the faux guitar used in “Guitar Hero.” Also, the patent really does seem to be about participating in a virtual concert by adding the guitar part, rather than about pushing buttons in a game. Finally, the patent also includes the small detail that the participating in the virtual concert also involves a “head-mounted 3D display.” I’m not aware of too many people playing “Guitar Hero” with one of those. Either way, Gibson approached Activision about licensing the patent, and rather than finding itself involved in a patent lawsuit in East Texas, Activision took charge and filed a suit against Gibson proactively, looking for a declaratory judgment that “Guitar Hero” does not violate the patent in question. In the meantime, if Gibson is really so concerned, why not do a deal with Activision to get them to offer replicas of Gibson’s classic guitars as an upsell offering for the game’s fans?

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: activision, gibson

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Activision Sues Gibson In Response To Claims That 'Guitar Hero' Violates Patent”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

why not do a deal with Activision to get them to offer replicas of Gibson’s classic guitars as an upsell offering for the game’s fans? Because most real guitar fans/players can’t stand that ridiculously lame game and don’t understand what the hype is about. “Oooh, look at me, I can play fake guitar!”.

I heard air-guitar competitions are quite funny.

Xanius says:

Re: Re:

Ah the great argument of “You still can’t play real guitar idiot.”

Very few people that are good at guitar hero think they can play real guitar. In fact if you’re good at guitar go play guitar hero, they are worlds apart, it looks simple to play since it’s only a few buttons and a switch that need to be pressed…but it’s not as easy as it looks when you try it on the higher difficulties.

The two take different types of skills,guitar takes hand eye coordination and practice to be able to bend your hand to reach the right notes.
Guitar hero takes hand eye coordination and reflexes.

You bash the game but either you have never tried playing it or you did and you were terrible at it so obviously it sucks and is stupid.
I’m horrible at both guitar hero and guitar and I recognize the difficulty in both and the fact that I don’t have the time to learn to do either of them well.

As for the story, I think it’s a good move on activisions part.

Dirk Belligerent (profile) says:

Re: Snobs = Suck

Most people wouldn’t run around shrieking at gamers who play Madden, “You couldn’t quarterback a pro football team!”; tell Forza players, “You can’t race a real car!”; chastise WoW players about the lack of real spell-casting skills; or scold shooter players, “You’d die in a real war cuz there’s no health packs!”; yet they have no compunctions about sneering at Guitar Hero/Rock Band players that they’re “stoopid” because they aren’t playing real instruments.

Here’s a news flash, Sparky: a LOT of musicians, REAL musicians, play and love the GH/RB games. They understand the differences between “real” and “pretend” and are cool with it. Oddly, some excellent real musicians are totally mediocre at these games because they’re used to playing ahead or behind of the beat and the games require precise adherence to the grid.

I’m a songwriter-singer-guitarist who can sing and play some rather complicated parts at the same time and I’m toast at anything above Medium difficulty while kids with no musical training can clobber the games on Expert and clog YouTube with the proof.

I wonder what, ahem, shortcomings these haters are attempting to compensate for? Granted, I’ve also encountered musicians who think GH is the most retarded thing ever, but they’re unhappy losers who have bitterness issues beyond some video game’s influence.

The bottom line is that if people are having fun, what’s your problem, Francis? It’s interesting to see starter guitar kits being stocked at Beast Buy and Target? Could it be that some of the 14 million buyers of Guitar Hero games have decided to give the real thing a shot?

Jake says:

Suing Out Of Pique?

I was only a kid at the time so my memory’s spotty, but I remember something a lot like Gibson’s patent being around back in the early 90s, minus the HUD; it was demonstrated on TV with a motion-sensitive peripheral that looked like a plectrum, which was pretty clever, but it must have cost a fortune. There might have been a full-sized electric guitar offered for it too, but I’d be surprised if that even made it into production; you could probably get a cheap electric and amp for the same kind of money back then, and it wouldn’t have been much harder to learn to play from what I remember. The software got some good reviews, but the hardware wasn’t there yet and it never really caught on.

So fast-forward to the present and Activision come up with something slightly similar, albeit simplified to the point where it’s DDR with fewer fitness benefits [Full Disclosure: I don’t have a PlayStation and can only go by the reviews here], and it’s rather more successful thanks to developments in consumer electronics. Might someone on Activision’s design team have played this game, or at least known of it, and found themselves wondering if it could be made to work on a modern system? I’d say it’s an odds-on bet.
So Activision shakes the dust off an old idea that didn’t work, fixes a great deal of what was wrong with it and makes some money out of it. And now I can only assume that someone found the patent certificate whilst clearing out the obsolete archives and thought, “Hey! We thought of something a bit like this fifteen years ago and it bombed, but now Activision are doing something similar and raking it in! Foul! We deserve a percentage!”

Now, I could kind of see where Gibson were coming from if this was just about the replica-guitar controller; the Guitar Hero one doesn’t look like it uses very similar operating principles to what I saw on TV all those years ago, let alone the Gibson patent, but my imagination just about stretches to Activision being just slightly over the threshold for a technical violation. But “Generating and controlling a simulated musical concert” is a hell of a broad concept to patent; take that out of context and you could use Kraftwerk, Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre for prior art! I’m not impressed by the way Gibson went about this either; threatening to take someone to court unless they pay up sounds rather a lot like blackmail or demanding money with menaces to me, and if Gibson were so sure of themselves then they should have requested a declaratory judgement for themselves.

C-HEN says:

It’s also a little strange seeing how Gibson has pretty much been authorizing their name brand guitars in the game, and thier guitar models for the controllers for the last few years since Guitar Hero has been out. They obviously authorized or bought into getting their name into these games. How is it that all of a sudden Gibson is like, “hold up…what’s this thing you’re using our Gibson named guitars for?” as if they were unaware of what it was being used for. It’s just a little shady that they would wait that long for the success of Guitar Hero to explode, then try to collect royalties on it, or even more moronically, try to shut it down.

Mikey says:

Activision vs. Gibson

I’m wondering if the problem is not the companies, but rather the overall legal environment we are all in today. It seems that if a company does *not* exercise due diligence by filing immediate lawsuits at the first hint of a violation, they stand to lose something — sometimes a little, sometimes a lot — later on in the courtroom. And of course, if it’s a public company then you will have the stockholders to contend with as well – THEY will be suing you for mega-damages, even if there are no “real” damages.

I’m hoping that this foolishness settles down at some point, because it is such a colossal waste of time and resource, not to mention the hard feelings generated.

Duodave (user link) says:


I just read Gibson’s patent and I find it differs from Activision’s product in several important ways.

First, the patent specifies a 3-d head-worn immersive video & audio device. As of yet, no version of GH has utilized such a device.

Second, Activision’s product does not include any video or audio device, it utilizes existing products by other companies.

Third, the Gibson patent specifies a guitar. Activision’s product is shaped remotely like a guitar, but is in actuality a game controller. It has buttons, no strings or pickups. No one would ever mistake a GH controller for a guitar.

Stephen says:

As an attorney who sometimes litigates patent infringement matters, it seems to me that we owe a slap on the head to the US Patent and Trademark Office which has in recent years gotten into the nasty habit of granting ridiculously vague and overly broad patents which tend to muddy the waters for businesses trying to innovate. A patent is a state-created monopoly and should be granted very cautiously.

Nick (profile) says:

Gibson has a long history of trolling. They buy smaller, struggling musical instrument companies, horde their patents, and kill off what made the company great either by firing all of the founders or ceasing development and production altogether. Here lies the graveyard of companies Gibson “acquired”: Opcode Systems (midi sequencing software,
Oberheim Synths,
Tannoy Speakers.

Some think they are anti-technology, so they acquire these companies to stifle music technologies that do not promote guitars. Gibson clearly sees Guitar Hero as the wet dream Gibson should have had, something they think they should have had the exclusive right to have thought of and executed on, but they could have never succeeded, so they are going to try to take as much away from Activision as they can. Making guitars is just a small part of their “business.” I hate them.

Matt says:


Well, that and they are way better than that Gibson junk.

I don’t get it— So they decide to pay Activision so that they use ONLY Gibson guitars in the game, model their controllers after gibson bodies, and have all sorts of Gibson guitars in the game’s ‘store.’

Then they decide that they need to try to extort money out of Activision by offering to “license the technology” (read: threaten to sue them and force a settlement)?

Seems like they had a pretty sweetheart deal going for themselves, a lot of positive publicity and public exposure – why risk it? They aren’t in any financial duress- musical instrument sales are quite strong.

Nick (profile) says:


Ha, you see? Even when you enter into what seems a reasonable deal with Gibson, they come after you later in a predatory manor. Classic Gibson strategy. Let this be a warring to all companies considering doing business with Gibson. Hell, even Guitar Center was considering dropping them a couple of years ago over some dispute, a move that would hurt Gibson far more than it would hurt GC. Don’t be surprised with Gibson enters into a hostile takeover bid of Activision later this year. My advice to Activision is to drop all Gibson trademark deals as soon as possible and go all-Fender.

Ed H. says:

Gibson's Patent Claims

I am not a lawyer, but I do know a little about patents. The important part of the patent is the list of claims. If you infringe on just one of the claims, you infringe on the patent. The most important claims are the independent ones, i.e. the ones that don’t start with “The method in claim 25 wherein…” The other claims are all refinements of the independent claims, and can still provide protection of the independent claim turns out to be invalidated because it’s too broad.

So, looking at the independent claims…

Claim #1 requires a musical instrument with an audio output signal. The Guitar Hero controller does not do that, so that one’s out.

Claim #13 is broad enough that it could almost cover Guitar Hero, except the way it’s written, it requires prerecorded video of a musical performance, and I don’t think you could consider the GH game video to be prerecorded.

Claim #21 is really specific about a guitar, pre-recorded concert video, etc., so that’s out. #25 and #28 also require pre-recorded concert video.

So on that basis, I don’t think Gibson has a case.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »