Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Not So Sweet! Saga of King.com's Trademark Trolling

Five Reasons Not to Play Candy Crush Saga


Candy Crush Saga by King.com is the type of game that you love to hate. Maybe it's the constant spamming of Facebook messages from your friends inviting you to play it, but no... This is a story that began with the success of King's popular Facebook game Candy Crush Saga that turned mobile and a desire to protect the company that turns into greed.  Candy Crush Saga now generates millions of dollars per day for King.  Yes, around three to four million per day according to their 2013 IPO registration.  King has produced a highly polished, but wholly unoriginal game that makes the bulk of their wealth.  While credit should be given to King for the marketing success of their Candy Crush Saga game, the trademark abuse and opposition to small independent game developers is completely unnecessary.


Reason #1 - The CandySwipe Saga

Early color matching games - Snood, CandySwipe, and Bejeweled

Before there was Candy Crush Saga there were other colorful matching games. Does anyone remember Snood in the 90's or Bejeweled?  In 2010 Albert Ransom (a small independent developer) released and trademarked CandySwipe, a matching game.  Years later Candy Crush Saga was released on Facebook in April of 2012.  With the rising popularity of Candy Crush in 2013, people began to confuse CandySwipe and Candy Crush, so much so that the Candyswipe game began received negative complaints in the app store for being a Candy Crush clone, when in reality it was the Candy Crush game that appeared to be a clone, although with more polish than CandySwipe.  This caused Albert Ransom to file a complaint against the Candy Crush Saga trademark in which he tried to protect his own brand due to many graphic similarities between the two games.


Reason #2 - The Money Solution

Riccardo Zacconi - King.com

King was able to purchase a bankrupt company to get the European trademark for Candy, and a game in January of 2013 called Candy Crusher which was originally released on Blackberry all the way back in 2009.  These two purchases seemed to both solidify King's ownership of their brand name and prevent any prior art complaints from Ransom's CandySwipe.  Flush with cash from their 2013 popularity the company seemed to be able to fight any legal battle to protect their flagship game.



Reason #3 - All Your Trademarks Are Belong to Us


Trademarks are used for legal protection of company brands.  Let's say you want to sell a product that has a distinct brand name that no one else is allowed to use.  For example: if I open a store and want to sell hamburgers I could call it McDonald's Burgers.  If someone else tries to use a name too similar to attempt to confuse people such as MacDonald's Burgers, then that is trademark infringement.

When King started to gain popularity they trademarked some words related to the titles of their games like 'Candy Crush' and 'Candy Crush Saga'.

It makes sense for King to trademark the titles of their games so that people can't clone their product and claim it as their own.  When a trademark is registered the category of usage needs to be declared.  For example: A company like Time Inc, the producer of Time magazine can trademark the word 'Time' (TM# 86043259).  Their trademark covers things like entertainment services - magazines, journals, websites, and publications. How many of categories did they need to cover to protect their all important magazine brand? 14.  This means you could create a cleaning product called Time (if you really wanted to) but not an entertainment website.

What doesn't make sense are the categories covered by King's trademarks.  The Candy Crush Saga originally covers 37 different uses including: computer games, clothing, classes, fire extinguishers, scientific, nautical, & various other uses.  So, King plans on releasing Candy Crush branded fire extinguishers, really?

Not content to just have a trademark for the name of their products, 'Candy Crush' and 'Candy Crush Saga', but King has applied for trademarks for the individual words appearing in their games Saga (TM# 85482736, 86242335), Candy (TM# 85842584), Sweet! (TM# 86138537) and even Keyword (TM# 86191982).

How can King claim the trademark to use common words such as Saga, Keyword, and Candy?  Sure, the word saga appears in many of their games and candy in their most popular game.  King was able to purchase the European Union trademark for Candy in February of 2013 and then use that purchase to bolster support for their request for the US trademark for the word Candy.  King received approval for the US trademark for use of the word Candy in 2014.


Reason #4 - The Banner Saga


Around the same time that Candy Crush Saga was released on Facebook, an independent developer named Stoic had successfully funded their game 'The Banner Saga' on the popular funding platform Kickstarter.  



Candy Crush Saga           
Banner Saga
Graphics:
Candy Land Style


Viking Themed
Gameplay:
Puzzler

Role Playing Game

Story: Minimal Epic Story - based on player choices

This game has nothing in common with Candy Crush and is a truly original game, but in December of 2013 King filed a trademark complaint against Stoic apparently only because the game had the word 'saga' in the title.

What is a saga?  From Merriam-Webster, a saga is a long complicated story with many events.  Think of the story of Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter series. The Banner Saga game has a long and complicated story based on player choices and is, in other words, a saga.


Reason #5 - Not So Sweet! 

Sweet! from CandySwipe

The most egregious trademark abuse by King is perhaps the one for the word 'Sweet!'.  King applied for a trademark of the word 'Sweet!' in December of 2013.  Looking at the scope of the trademark reveals that it covers too many things to list: from Malt Beer, Lithographic Stones to Cobblers' wax and Make-Up.  These are just some of the 2191 categories of items covered.  They can't realistically expect to be involved with the distribution and business of producing all these types of goods.  So, if a baker makes a pie that has 'Sweet!' somewhere on the label they can get sued for infringement by a software company?

On the same day the trademark for Candy was approved, King notified indie developer Benny Hsu that his game 'All Candy Casino Slots - Jewels Craze Connect: Big Blast Mania Land' was infringing on their candy trademark.  Similar to The Banner Saga, this game has nothing in common with Candy Crush Saga except that it features a word in common in its long title.  Granted in this case, Hsu may have been trying to capitalize on popularity of certain keywords to get an edge in a crowded app store.

Popular opinion in the gaming industry began to stir with antipathy for King. Game Jams were held by game developers to create games that featured candy. King posted an open letter on their website attempting to explain that they were just protecting their brand but failed to demystify the greedy breadth of the trademarks they were seeking (Sweet! - 2191 categories of use, Candy - 106 uses, Saga - 112 uses, Keyword - 305 uses).  The letter satisfied no one, and unable to save face the company abandoned the Candy trademark just 40 days after having it approved.


Epilogue


The CandySwipe issue was finally resolved between King and Ransom in April of 2014 when Ransom removed his complaint against the Candy Crush Saga trademark after reaching an understanding with King.  They decided that both games could coexist on the app store.

In August of 2014 after eight months of objection to The Banner Saga, King finally removed their opposition to the usage of saga in the title.  The game is now published on Steam.

Benny Hsu renamed his game to 'All Sugar Casino Slots - Jewels Craze Connect: Big Blast Mania Land' removing the word Candy from the title.

King still owns the European trademark for the word Candy and is awaiting approval for the expanded usage of their trademark for: Keyword, Saga, and Sweet!  In fact, if they receive final approval of the extremely broad scope they are requesting, it is likely the title of this blog post could be opposed by King.

Update

Candy Crush berry fruit snacks

So, just two days after posting this article I get home to find my wife had purchased some new fruity snacks to munch on.  I was quite shocked to find these sitting innocently on the kitchen table.