I’ll make my position on this clear right from the get-go: No corporation should have legal rights to any word I can use in Scrabble—words like “candy” or “saga” for instance.
The very notion is crazy and dangerous, to creativity, to business, and to the very act of communicating with one another.
But that’s exactly what King, the maker of Candy Crush Saga, is trying to do.
While King’s trademark of the word “candy” is getting the most traction, the company’s attempt to trademark “saga” is just as absurd. Worse still, it’s impacting indie studio Stoic, the developer behind the Kickstarter-funded The Banner Saga.
King, in an attempt to stave off copy-cat developers has taken steps to prevent Stoic from using “Saga” in their game’s title.
This is peculiar for many reasons, including the fact that the word originates from an Old Norse word meaning “narrative.”
That any company should claim the rights to an ancient noun would be mildly hilarious if it didn’t have real legal implications for a small studio like Stoic, which may not ever be able to trademark their own game’s name.
Oddly enough, King has acknowledged in a statement that they don’t believe Stoic is trying to rip off Candy Crush Saga. That makes sense since there’s nothing similar about the fantasy Viking game and King’s mobile smash hit. Here’s King’s statement:
““King has not and is not trying to stop Banner Saga from using its name. We do not have any concerns that Banner Saga is trying build on our brand or our content. However, like any prudent company, we need to take all appropriate steps to protect our IP, both now and in the future. In this case, that means preserving our ability to enforce our rights in cases where other developers may try to use the Saga mark in a way which infringes our IP rights and causes player confusion. If we had not opposed Banner Saga’s trade mark application, it would be much easier for real copy cats to argue that their use of “Saga” was legitimate. This is an important issue for King because we already have a series of games where “Saga” is key to the brand which our players associate with a King game; Candy Crush Saga, Bubble Witch Saga, Pet Rescue Saga, Farm Heroes Saga and so on. All of these titles have already faced substantive trademark and copyright issues with clones.”
What doesn’t make sense is how little this statement aligns with King’s Notice of Opposition:
““Applicant’s THE BANNER SAGA mark is confusingly and deceptively similar to Opposer’s previously used SAGA Marks.”
So which is it? Is The Banner Saga trying to build on King’s brand or content, which King denies, or are they attempting something “deceptively similar” which King claims? It’s difficult to see how both can be true.
As Rock Paper Shotgun’s John Walker points out, myriad games over the years have included the word “saga” in the title, most of which predate Candy Crush Saga by years. Stoic even noted, in a statement to RPS, that their trademark application for The Banner Saga predates King’s trademark application for the word “saga.”
““We currently have a trademark filed for “The Banner Saga”, which we submitted before King.com filed for the word “Saga”. They’ve blocked our trademark and extended the deadline for the opposition twice so that we are unable to have the rights to the name.”
As Walker also notes, the real problem for Stoic boils down to finances. King can easily bankroll a legal fight against a tiny indie studio. However absurd this trademark fight may be, Stoic simply can’t afford to go toe-to-toe without going bankrupt in the process.
“King have a portfolio of games that makes literally millions of dollars every day,” Walker writes. ”If Stoic lawyered up, King could (and I stress “could” – we’ve no evidence that they would) bleed them dry of every last cent before anything got anywhere, and it wouldn’t be a blip in King’s accounts.”
And that leaves Stoic in a quandary, and just as confused as the rest of us. Here’s more from Stoic’s statement to RPS:
“King’s public response is “King hasn’t and isn’t trying to stop Banner Saga from using its name. We don’t have any concerns that Banner Saga is trying build on our brand or our content and so we’re not asking them to change their name. Rather, we have asked them not to trademark it as their IP.”
Essentially, we are not allowed to own the name “The Banner Saga” for our game about a viking epic, because King.com claims rights to the noun “Saga”, which means “a viking epic”, which they would retain forever more in the realm of games.
What may end up happening is that another major video game publisher comes out with a game with the word “saga” in it and a legal battle ensues on something of a level playing field. That’s cold comfort to Stoic and any other smaller studio with the audacity to include words like “candy” or “saga” in their games in the meantime.
Another important element to this is the fact that there really are many copy-cat games on the market these days, and it’s understandable that game makers would go to great lengths to protect their intellectual property. This is certainly true of Candy Crush Saga.
But there comes a point when the balance tilts in the opposite direction and a company goes too far. When Stoic’s viking epic is obviously nothing at all like King’s title, for instance, you start to see how King’s methods are far too blunt and expansive. Even long-shot trademarks on common words won’t stop competitors from mimicking King’s games, and responding by trademarking words is casting too wide a net that will ultimately only hurt honest game developers.
King has other IPs such as Farm Heroes Saga as well. Perhaps Zynga should have trademarked “Farm” to prevent this “deceptively similar” title to Farmville. Maybe Ubisoft, the makers of Heroes of Might & Magic should try to trademark “Heroes.” Record studios can start trademarking words like “Love.” Soon the entirety of the English language will be owned by corporations.
Ultimately this is just another sign that major changes to our intellectual property laws need to be made as soon as possible. Clarity is in short supply, and everyone from honest content creators to the consumer is being hurt in the process.
I’ve reached out to King for clarification on their statement. The company obviously needs to clarify their position on this issue.
Meanwhile, consumers should be worried about the direction this sort of trademark abuse is headed and respond in kind: publicly voicing their concerns and voting with their wallet.