from the common-sense dept
It's no secret that Sony has never been shy about wielding trademark like a cudgel. That said, there seems to be something new brewing with the company in its recent attempts to trademark fairly common terms, worrying some that it would use those trademarks in the same heavy-handed way. The first of those attempts was the recent Sony filing for a trademark on the term "Let's Play", which any gamer will recognize as the term for popular YouTube videos showing games being played, often offered by well-known YouTube personalities. While the USPTO had already refused the trademark on the grounds that a prior mark for "Let'z Play" had already been registered, a law firm that specializes in gaming law jumped in to try and have the court instead declare that "Let's Play" is now a generic term.
In a blog post from the McArthur law firm, the company explained that in its letter to the USPTO it offered up fifty examples of how ‘Let’s Play’ has become a generic term. The most important part of this is that the letter needs to be taken into consideration before awarding a trademark. Sony does have time to respond to the US Patent and Trademark Office’s initial concerns with its trademark application. However, now the office also has evidence from a third-party showing why Sony shouldn’t be handed ownership of the term ‘Let’s Play’.It would be difficult to imagine an argument against the notion that "Let's Play" is now a well-known generic term, given its widespread use by online personalities. More interesting is the attempt itself, in that Sony is certainly well aware of the term's status and use, yet it decided to try to lock up the term via trademark anyway, specifically for the uses in which it's currently employed. That isn't what trademark is for, of course, and it would be insane to see the USPTO award the mark and allow the possibility for an insane number of trademark actions based on Let's Play videos tied to advertising revenue. Blech.
But that attempt dovetails nicely with another attempted registration of a trademark by Sony, as the company has recently applied for a mark on the term "VRPG."
Filed by Sony Computer Entertainment Japan (SCEJ) back in December, the trademark filing was listed online by the Japanese Patent and Trademark Office. The document is entirely in Japanese but DualShockers states that the filing is Class 9 (which is used for games) and “includes pretty much all the standard definition for game trademarks.” Unfortunately, there’s little else to go on, but one popular theory from fans is that VRPG actually stands for Virtual Role-Playing Game and relates to a new PlayStation VR game.It's not clear yet that this is what "VRPG" stands for, but if it is, it will provide a wonderful litmus test for exactly how sane the USPTO is, because awarding that mark would be crazy. RPG is, of course, a standard term in gaming circles, making the application essentially all about the "V", another common abbreviation for all things virtual reality. Virtual reality is itself becoming a household term in gaming circles, with the renewed interest in VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift. Allowing Sony to own a mark on a term that describes what may shortly become an entire genre of the gaming industry is tantamount to a language monopoly that, far from serving the interests of the consuming public, instead serves only to carve out very commonly used terms for sole use by certain corporate interests.
This, as in the previous case, is simply not the aim of trademark provisions. There's nothing source identifying in a mark that essentially declares a product to be a virtual reality role-playing game. That's entirely too broad. So place your bets on exactly how sane the folks at the USPTO will be.