Ex-Game Maker Atari To Argue To The US PTO That Only It Can Make 'Haunted House' Games

from the huh? dept

We noted several years ago that Atari, once the king of the video game industry, has since devolved into a zombie company built only for intellectual property trolling. Copyright, trademark, or patents: Atari will use all of them to try to milk the modern gaming industry for cash. In fact, in past public statements, Atari has made it clear that it has no interest in producing any new games, instead relying on its remaining staff to license its trademarks and port a few decades-old games over to the mobile market. Quite a fall for the once giant of the industry.

And that fall will now include going in front of the PTO’s Appeal Board to explain why Atari and Atari alone should be allowed to title a game using the phrase “Haunted House.” Why? Well, because it made a game called Haunted House in the early 80’s, you see.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office has set oral arguments for Atari’s claim against developer Hazy Dreams of Infinity over its use of “Haunted House” in the game Haunted House Tycoon. Atari and defendant Andrew Greenberg, Hazy Dreams founder, present oral arguments on Thursday. In 2011, Atari filed a “notice of opposition” against the Hazy Dreams in an effort to prevent the developer from launching the game, which is still in development. The classic-gaming publisher’s stance is that it owns that trademark in the gaming industry after releasing Haunted House in 1982 for the Atari 2600 console — although Atari did not file for that mark until 2010.

So Atari is going to bully a current game maker over a generic term it once used on a game it made over three decades ago, but didn’t trademark until 2010. It’s hard to think of an example that better shows how trademark law is abused today, deviating from its intended purpose and spirit. There’s no customer confusion here to worry about. Nobody is going to mistake Atari’s block graphics for the modern Haunted House Tycoon title. This is simply a bullying tactic, likely to generate licensing revenue. That’s what Atari is now, after all.

Greenberg, of course, isn’t pleased.

“Trying to claim no one else can use the words ‘Haunted’ and ‘House’ is especially ridiculous, considering games have been using the term ‘Haunted House” in titles ever since Magnavox released a game by that name for the Odyssey in 1972,” he said in a statement. “Atari has a horrible reputation for attacking independent game developers, including recently going after TxK developer Jeff Minter,” the Hazy Dreams of Infinity president said.

That’s true, of course, but the folks running Atari these days don’t care about that reputation. It isn’t the public that is making them money, after all.

All of this comes as Atari has lost much of its original identity. The company, which has shifted from owner to owner over time, filed for bankruptcy in 2013. It emerged later that year under the ownership of venture capitalist Frederic Chesnais, who says that company is now 10 people primarily responsible for managing its past assets.

Ten people working for a company designed to troll actual makers of gaming content, potentially successfully blocking the release of a game because it carries a fairly generic phrase in its title? Yeah, we’ve gotten so far away from the original purpose of trademark at this point that it’s basically unrecognizable.

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Comments on “Ex-Game Maker Atari To Argue To The US PTO That Only It Can Make 'Haunted House' Games”

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31 Comments
Richard (profile) says:

This will continue

This will continue until there is a significant penalty for failure in this type of case.

At present US practice doesn’t routinely require the loser to pay costs in these cases. Hence it is inevitable that the defendant will balance the cost of fighting (and winning) against a modest licencing fee and accept the fee.

Winning such a case should never leave the defendant out of pocket.

This is true in other countries – which is why the US has more problems than the ret of the world.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This will continue

If the looser is forced to pay then justice is only available to those who have money.

Legitimate small time inventor wants to sue Mega Corp for patent infringement. While he may have a good case if he fails to win he could be on the hook for $zillions in paying Mega Corp’s attorney fees. Small time inventor cannot take such a risk and is now denied justice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: This will continue

If the small time inventor does not have the money to hire attorneys, they are unable to defend themselves from corporate predators, and in particular those that come calling with bad patents, which is the basic business model of the patent and copyright trolls, and bullying corporations abusing trademark law. The current US legal system gives definite advantages to those with money, or a law degree.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: This will continue

How is this different from the current situation?

Here in real life, and not in magical fairyland storytime, “legitimate small-time inventors” face both the steep cost (in time and money) of obtaining a patent and the business-sinking expense of bringing suit against Mega Corp, so Mega Corp is already quite well protected against small upstarts. Tort reform of this kind would not meaningfully change the situation for Joe Genius (especially if, like the fairytale claims, his brilliant invention is both original and currently being copied by Mega Corp, making his case a slam-dunk), but it may very well discourage the kind of abusive behavior at issue here.

DannyB (profile) says:

The people running Atari do not understand intellectual property

These people seriously need to get some schooling about how intellectual property works.

The first and most obvious thing they did wrong makes their argument completely invalid. There are already other haunted house games. Atari needs to qualify their request by adding “… on a computer”. The charm of that magical incantation would cure all defects in their patent application.

TruthHurts (profile) says:

Sorry Atari, you weren't the first...

If Atari wishes to try and prove their claim, all they’d end up doing is losing to Magnavox.

The original Magnavox Odyssey gaming system from the early 70s (1972) used multiple potentiometer based controllers to move a “ghost” through the haunted house, who’s graphics were made by “clings” statically attached to the front of the television.

So really, Magnavox had the “original” Haunted House Video Game.

Sorry Atari.

Doing a search for “Magnavox Odyssey Haunted House” will bring up several sites with plenty of historical information.

Digger says:

Re: Re: Sorry Atari, you weren't the first...

Ahh, but Atari didn’t trademark it either, until well after they’d stopped using it.

That would seem to me to be a point of contention.

Magnavox did it first. Atari did it second. Neither trademarked it.

Now a new company in what feels like identity thieves of Atari claimed trademark on a product well after it hadn’t been used in over a decade, closer to three decades.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sorry Atari, you weren't the first...

Please remember that Apple is currently claiming it invented the fingerprint scanner, the pen/stylus, touchscreens, white with black-lettering keyboards, mice with more than one button, HD-resolution screens and last but not least, glass screens for electronic devices.

And its SUING people all over the world for this stuff.

David (profile) says:

If Hazy Dreams is in violation, then so is Atari. Any penalty should go to Magnavox. Of course, I don’t think anyone broke any rules. Several years ago, I wrote and released some software that included the word “remote” in the name. Does that mean that nobody can use the word “remote” in the name of any communications software? No. The word is too generic to copyright or trademark.

IPNYC lawyer says:

Atari "Haunted House"

Small but important correction to the TechDirt blog where it says Atari “didn’t trademark [“Haunted House”] until 2010.” Trademark rights in the US are based on use in commerce – either directly or through licensees. Registration is therefore not necessary to protect and enforce a trademark. Abandonment of a mark occurs from an extended period of non-use (3+ years creates a presumption of abandonment under the US Lanham Act) or a long-term failure to enforce a mark against others who allegedly infringe.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

IP is our most valuable asset, 6 words that hastened these antics.

You have a shadowy group of people paying 10 people to extract millions from people actually creating things. Once upon a time the system worked where people would build upon what came before, now what came before cannibalizes the present at the expense of the future.

We still have creative people, but many dare not share with the world because these zombies of the past will devour them. This is the mentality that has run unchecked, and might help explain why anything innovative as treated as the devil out to steal their souls, because it might change how everything works.

In 10 years when a Kim Kardasian Enterprises is demanding a cut from all celebutant faked sex tapes, might we finally figure out this was a bad idea? Pity it’ll probably be to late… our culture is dying because we keep feeding fat zombies and letting them call the shots.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Atari Is A Haunted House

At this point, the house of Atari itself is haunted.

As many as 10 ghoulish soul-suckers roam the halls there, drawing the life-force from the living.

So don’t wear a red-shirt, don’t be black, don’t split up, and whatever you do, don’t develop new games and content, cuz here there be demons.

You say you don’t believe in ghost stories, USPTO? Well, you’d best start deary, cuz you’re in one.

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