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If Rebellion (the developer behind the Sniper Elite series, NeverDead, and Rogue Warrior) had its way, no one would be able to use the word “rebellion” in a video game title. The studio attempted to enforce a trademark in a lawsuit against Sins of the Solar Empire: Rebellion developer Ironclad Games (and lost), but that hasn’t stopped it from pursuing its case in other countries.
Rebellion’s case against Ironclad was dismissed in June of last year, and the Sins of a Solar Empire developer began to process its trademark paperwork once more. Despite the legal defeat in the U.S., Rebellion has opposed the same trademark in Canada, most recently filing evidence in late May. Ironclad has until September 23 to provide its own evidence in defense of its use of word "rebellion."
In a blog post, Ironclad says that Rebellion first made contact with a cease and desist letter in April 2012 over the word’s appearance in Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion. In that letter (as stated by Ironclad), Rebellion’s legal counsel asserts that “there can be only one reason for choosing the name ‘REBELLION’ as the name of this game, and that is that it is identical to our client's name.”
Furthermore, Rebellion’s attorneys accused Ironclad of using the word “rebellion” as a means to “take unfair advantage of the reputation of our client or to dilute the distinctiveness of our client's reputation.” Ironclad says it spent a year in court protecting itself from Rebellion’s demands that it destroy marketing material, pay damages, and agree to a gag order.
In May, the case was dismissed, with the presiding judge determining that the use of the word “rebellion” by Ironclad is expressive speech and protected under the first amendment. Furthermore, the usage has artistic relevance to the game content and isn’t an attempt to capitalize on Rebellion’s reputation.
According to a search in the United States Patent and Trademark Office records, it appears that Rebellion and its co-founders Chris Kingsley and Jason Kingsley have aggressively pursued a number of publishers and developers using the word in game titles. A cursory glance reveals oppositions to Sony’s Biolith Rebellion (a set of cards for the Eye of Judgment game), Nippon Ichi’s Last Rebellion, and even Hasbro’s planned G.I. Joe line called Robot Rebellion.
Ironclad says it will continue to fight for its right to use the word “rebellion.” We’ve reached out to Rebellion for comment on the matter and will update should we receive a response.
[Source: Ironclad Games, United States District Court, USPTO, Canadian Intellectual Property Office]
Our TakeUnfortunately for Rebellion, it choose a common word for its name (made even more prevalent when you think about video games and the inherent nature of conflict). It seems unreasonable for a developer to expect that their studio name would be protected from use in a game, especially when the subject matter is about a group rising up against an established body. That is, in fact, the very definition of “rebellion.” Rebellion (the studio) has every right (and duty) to protect its name, but this just isn’t the right way, especially with Sniper Elite 3 coming in the next few days.