Dear CD Projekt Red: Please Stop Trying To Get Trademarks On The Common Name Of A Genre

from the cyberpunk-move dept

When it comes to bastions of hope in the video game industry on intellectual property matters, we’ve been happy to laud CD Projekt Red (CDPR) for getting most things right most of time. The company’s stance on keeping its games DRM-free while being immensely successful has been a breath of fresh air, while its tendency towards bucking the DLC trend in gaming by not nickel-and-diming its fanbase for every last little thing. These are generally good folks, in other words, which is why it’s a little disheartening to see how the company is handling the backlash over its attempt to trademark the term “Cyberpunk” in the EU.

But first, some background. Cyberpunk 2020 is a pen and paper roleplaying game developed by Mike Pondsmith. CDPR announced in 2014 that it was making a game based on that system, entitled Cyberpunk 2077. To that end, it acquired the already granted US trademarks for the term “Cyberpunk”, originally registered in 2011, from Pondsmith’s publishing company. Cyberpunk is also, of course, a common genre term for fiction, movies, and video games. If you’re asking why the USPTO ever should have granted a trademark on the singular term “Cyberpunk”, the answer is obvious: it shouldn’t have. The term was coined in the 80s and quickly grew in usage to the point where its an established genre of fiction. Trademarking it for the use in titles within a common medium of fiction is crazy. Yet, in the course of acquiring the rights to make the game, the original granted mark was transferred to CDPR when it began making the game, and the company likewise got a trademark registration for the full name of its game, Cyberpunk 2077.

The recent uproar is because now CDPR is attempting to register the term “cyberpunk” in the EU itself, as opposed to having it transferred from a previous owner. The backlash was quite severe.

The trademark actually makes for the biggest public development for the project in recent months. On forums like Reddit, though, the focus was less on what this could portend for the long-gestating Cyberpunk 2077 and more on how one studio owning the word “cyberpunk” could cause trouble for other games in the future.

“I hope they won’t be able to push that trademark, it’s kind of uncool move,” reads the original Reddit post from last week, which quickly blew up. “We wouldn’t be able to have term cyberpunk used just like you can’t use terms Banner or Saga without a fear of being sued. Future games like [VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action] would have to dance around the term that’s core to their concept and wouldn’t be able to use the term in the title.”

Admittedly, some of this uproar has been the result of confusion between trademark and copyright and the differences between the two. Still, a big chunk of the concern out there is whether or not other games can still use the term in their titles and associated branding or marketing. And that concern is perfectly valid. It’s also quite logical for the mind to recoil at the idea of a single company locking up rights to use the term for a common genre in its title names. The backlash got loud enough that CDPR had to respond, though the response was somewhat lacking.

Look, the positioning here isn’t entirely unreasonable. The US trademark wasn’t originally filed for by CDPR, it was transferred to them when it got the rights to produce the Cyberpunk 2077 video game. But the EU application is theirs. Attempting to assuage legitimate fears of overreach by pointing out that the company has never been one to bully on intellectual property matters and promising to only use the trademark defensively are valid points, but they miss the mark for several reasons. First, the fact remains that trademarks ought not be granted on common, indistinct terms, for which a common fiction sub-genre easily qualifies. Second, past history isn’t a perfect predictor of future behavior, so CDPR’s previous good acts aren’t good enough to defeat the principal argument. Angels do fall, however infrequently.

But the most curious part of CDPR’s response is the actual remedy to all of this is near the end of its own response. In case you missed it, the response suggested:

The role of the trademark is only to protect words, signs used as titles of games, names of products, etc. If someone names their game “JOHN SMITH: ADVENTURES IN A CYBERPUNK DYSTOPIAN SOCIETY” OR “20 SHORT VIDEO GAMES SET IN CYBERPUNK WORLDS” none of them should be treated as infringement of our rights.

That’s exactly correct, which is why CDPR’s game never should have been named so generically if the company wanted a trademark on the title. All that was required to avoid all of this was for a more distinctive title and for the trademark application to be for that distinctive title, as opposed to the common term “Cyberpunk.” Even for the US mark, there are provisions at the USPTO for surrendering a mark while retaining the trademark registration on the more distinctive associated marks. “Cyberpunk” could be surrendered while retaining a trademark on “Cyberpunk 2077.”

Look, when CDPR says it doesn’t plan on being a bully with its trademark, I happen to believe them. The company has put too much good will in the bank for me to think otherwise as of now. But that isn’t the point. The point is that there ought to be no trademarks on a term like “cyberpunk” to begin with. Excusing holding that trademark away while also applying for a new trademark in the EU isn’t a good look.

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Companies: cd projekt red, cdpr

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Comments on “Dear CD Projekt Red: Please Stop Trying To Get Trademarks On The Common Name Of A Genre”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Dear CDPR,
Please for the love of the FSM, fire your legal team. I am guessing that is who told you to totally needed to lock in the term in the EU. They are just trying to get billable hours in, and it is only costing you your good will with your consumers.

If you piss off your consumers, will the law firm buy your next game? (hopefully other than in a bankruptcy action because without fans, you fail.)
Perhaps you think your prior good guys label is enough…
Pepsi & United felt the same…

Stop being stupid.


Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Witcher 2 was. It’s a pity Witcher 3 wasn’t, but I expect the Linux version of Witcher 2 must not have gotten enough downloads for them to think it was worthwhile to go that route again.

GOG’s been better recently about providing multiplatform versions of games, but it’s clearly not a priority; the Galaxy Client still isn’t available for Linux or Mac (though apparently a Linux version is planned).

CD Projekt is still my favorite publisher/distributor, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Can one donate a trademark to the public domain?

I realize I may be asking the equivalent of “Can you make orange juice from an apple?”

If their concerns are truely making sure that they have the freedom to operate without someone else squatting on Cyberpunk, could they obtain the trademark and then offer it as a free license to anyone?

Or would the act of offering an open licence be abandoning the trademark?

Chuck says:


Why not just trademark “CYBERPUNK 2077” instead of trademarking Cyberpunk at all?

Not to state the obvious here, but this is how most trademarks are done, no? I mean, I doubt P&G (or whoever makes it) trademarked “Spray” or “Wash” instead of “SPray n’ Wash” right? Trademarking half your product’s name is just…stupid.

The fact that it’s CD Project Red that’s doing this leads me to believe they literally never intend to sue anyone over this, but if so, again, why bother trademarking just the word? Can trademarks not include numbers or something? What about the trademark for “Level 3” the networking company? Is their trademark just on the word “Level” or is it “Level 3” because I’m betting it’s the later.

This is just bizarre. Regardless of their intentions, this simply LOOKS nefarious. It boggles the mind that they’d trademark this one word for any reason other than suing people.

I mean I want to believe them but…really, guys?

Machin Shin says:

Re: Why?

The reason they are giving is that they don’t want someone else to get the more generic “Cyberpunk”. That is what I find sad is that they seem to feel almost pressured into this move because they fear someone being a troll and trademarking it out from under them if they don’t get it first.

Kind of makes me think they should maybe spin off a side company for holding things like this. Make that company have very clear terms saying “These are open for others to use, we are just holding them for safe keeping”. Basically create the anti-trolling company. Start locking up things that are likely to be abused and lock them into a company designed so there is no way possible for anyone to abuse them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Context is a big deal in trademark, and outside of maybe Mafia, none of those are broad, generic terms in the actual context here—they’re distinctive as titles of games. Before there was a game called Doom, there wasn’t a 20-year history of “doom games.”
Apple is a generic term when it comes to fruit. It’s a distinctive term in the context of computers. That difference matters.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Dungeons and Dragons” is a weird non sequitur in his list, too. Yes, they’re three generic words, but they’re combined in a unique order. It’s not like the words “Dungeons”, “Dragons”, or “and” are trademarked; only those three words in that specific order. It’s not as if Nickelodeon’s trademark on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is a trademark on those four individual generic words, in isolation from one another.

Chuck says:

Re: Re:

It should be noted that, other than “Battlefield” literally everything on your list is the complete name of an actual game. The first Mafia game wasn’t named “Mafia 1” but just “Mafia” and the first DOOM, GTA, etc were likewise actually named those things. So is the DOOM remake. Destiny is obviously just named “Destiny.”

As for Battlefield, to my knowledge every single game in that franchise is followed by a number. On the other hand, that’s an EA game, so given EA’s history with IP, I’d expect nothing less (or nothing more) from them.

So…your examples don’t negate the problem here. They should’ve just trademarked “CYBERPUNK 2077” instead of “Cyberpunk” and by this point, I hope they know that. Like I said above, even if they never sue anyone over it, it just LOOKS nefarious, and CD Project Red is savvy enough to know exactly how this looks.

Anonymous Coward says:

They don’t need to lock the term in the EU. But they need to make sure no abusive Rightsholder can lock it in.

THat is why they have to apply for, but not win the trademark rights. If they are denied for being to generic, that’s perfectly fine and probably completely enough for CDPR. Because then, if ever someone else applies for this, they can defend by pointing to this denial.

It’s more a case of "if anyone can hold this trademark in the EU, we want it to be us. If it’s decided noone is allowed to hold it, everthings allright, too." Becaus eif noone else can hold it, noone can abuse it against them.

Yes, the moral high road would be not to try. Yes, the ideologically sound thing to do would be to "boycott" stupid trademarks by not applying for them. But the practical reality is: as long as someone does grant stupid trademarks, you need to ensure they grant them to you, not to a possible attacker.

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