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Delirium39
Apr 19, 2009, 12:44 AM
Guys, pardon if you have already seen this in another forum, but I wanted to get as many opinions as I could. I am the developer of the game TanZen, which is a tangram game with a zen garden theme. My game has been on the App Store for nine months. Here is a screenshot of my game:

http://littlewhitebearstudios.com/images/photo.jpg


Now, I've had a competitor on the App Store for the last few months. They make a game called Tangram Puzzle Pro. The visual interfaces are not similar, except for the fact that he borrowed my use of a selection ring to rotate the shapes. I'm fine with that, as other games use rings to rotate/manipulate game objects. However, checking their website today, they are now selling a PC game, called Tangram Puzzle Pro: Secret Garden. They have a playable demo, and here is a screenshot:

http://littlewhitebearstudios.com/images/photo2.jpg


They're using a sand motif, and green pieces, which is very similar to my motif. Now, I don't know if that is grounds for copyright infringement, but what I do know is the way they've presented the pieces is entirely based on my design. I spent a couple days coming up with that layout, and all they've done is flip them.

I feel they are now in violation of my game's copyright. But before I send them a friendly email to modify their game, I wanted to get some opinions from fellow developers. So your opinions on this would be very much appreciated. Thanks!



ethana
Apr 19, 2009, 01:13 AM
Looks like they copied it to me. Very obvious. Hire a lawyer and send Apple a cease and desist letter regarding the game. Apple will contact the owner of the game and tell them they have 3 days to come up with an agreement with you. If they don't, Apple will take the game down until a legal option is settled on. You pretty much have three options:

- They take the game down and you move on with life.

- They take the game down and you do a settlement for the money that they've made.

- They don't take the game down and you sue them. Apple will still take the game down for you during litigation most likely.

Ethan

Delirium39
Apr 19, 2009, 01:15 AM
Looks like they copied it to me. Very obvious. Hire a lawyer and send Apple a cease and desist letter regarding the game. Apple will contact the owner of the game and tell them they have 3 days to come up with an agreement with you. If they don't, Apple will take the game down until a legal option is settled on. You pretty much have three options:

- They take the game down and you move on with life.

- They take the game down and you do a settlement for the money that they've made.

- They don't take the game down and you sue them. Apple will still take the game down for you during litigation most likely.

Ethan

Thanks Ethan. However, they have not submitted this to the App Store. It is their new PC game. It's built with Unity, so it's entirely possible for them to port it to the iPhone later.

mac88
Apr 19, 2009, 01:18 AM
You have a case on the PC version. As far as the iPhone app. you have nothing. They haven't developed anything for Apple that is causing you financial loss. Go after them for the PC version.

Delirium39
Apr 19, 2009, 01:20 AM
You have a case on the PC version. As far as the iPhone app. you have nothing. They haven't developed anything for Apple that is causing you financial loss. Go after them for the PC version.

Yes, I have no real problem with the iPhone app. They look completely different. It's just the PC version I have the problem with.

I believe this may be a case of Trade Dress.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trade_dress

bredell
Apr 19, 2009, 05:54 PM
They're using a sand motif, and green pieces, which is very similar to my motif. Now, I don't know if that is grounds for copyright infringement, but what I do know is the way they've presented the pieces is entirely based on my design. I spent a couple days coming up with that layout, and all they've done is flip them.


I don't think this is a case of copyright infringement. Both applications are about tangrams, and the way you've put the pieces in the picture is a standard tangram pattern. That pattern is one of the most popular ones and it's used in numerous puzzle solutions. So it's natural that you've both chosen the same layout. That pattern is also used in lots of tangram book covers and articles about tangrams.

Delirium39
Apr 19, 2009, 07:28 PM
I don't think this is a case of copyright infringement. Both applications are about tangrams, and the way you've put the pieces in the picture is a standard tangram pattern. That pattern is one of the most popular ones and it's used in numerous puzzle solutions. So it's natural that you've both chosen the same layout. That pattern is also used in lots of tangram book covers and articles about tangrams.

Respectfully, I'll have to disagree with you. There are no other tangram games that use this default piece configuration, nor are there any that use a zen garden motif. The common pattern you speak of is a solid square, not two triangles. The pieces were situated in this way to fit perfectly in landscape mode on the iPhone. A PC game has no such space limitation. The vast majority of tangram games use a side tray for the pieces, and they're almost always in the square pattern. The rest use a scattered layout, around the edges of the screen. This would not work on the iPhone, which is why I came up with this design. I did tons of research on tangram computer games before I made my game. This layout does not exist anywhere else. This is a direct competitor of mine, and has been for months. They are quite aware of my game, as each of our user reviews talks about the other one. This is not accidental, nor an obvious presentation of the game, that everyone will eventually come up with. Their iPhone game looks nothing like their new PC game. Their PC game's theme, and layout, are directly taken from my game. They went from not resembling my game at all, to being something that looks like it could come from my company. I'm not just talking about piece placement here. I'm talking about theme, layout, and general look and feel. Take a look:

http://littlewhitebearstudios.com/images/games.jpg

The possibility that they went from their original design, to one that looks incredibly similar to mine on accident, is extremely small. But you're right, it's not a copyright problem. It's a trademark problem, concerning trade dress.

BirdInTheCity
Apr 19, 2009, 11:54 PM
Well, I'm definitely no legal expert, but I'm just thinking about all the "Pull my finger"-type apps that are essentially all doing the same thing and looking very similar. I don't think any of them can claim infringement.

Also, your description doesn't hold up to Wikipedia's legal requirement for Trade dress:
To gain registration in the Principal Register or common law protection under the Lanham Act, a trade dress must not be “functional.” That is, the configuration of shapes, designs, colors, or materials that make up the trade dress in question must not serve a utility or function outside of creating recognition in the consumer’s mind.[16] For example, even though consumers associated a distinct spring design for wind resistant road signs with a particular company, the spring design was not protectable for trade dress purposes because the springs served the function of withstanding heavy wind conditions.[17]
Your block placement is definitely functional and not set up just to create recognition.
As for the zen esthetic, --typing "Zen Garden Games" into Google brings up a plethora of games that use a zen garden theme in some capacity... clearly, you weren't the first person to use the idea for a game theme.

I remember reading up on the case of Scrabulous vs Scrabble. Even in that case, where it was a much more obvious that they totally ripped off the intellectual property, it was still not a clear-cut decision. Originally, they just had to lose phrases like "Triple Word Score" that were protected, even tho it was a clear rip!

Anyway, that's my two cents... ;-)

Delirium39
Apr 20, 2009, 12:19 AM
Your block placement is definitely functional and not set up just to create recognition.

True, the piece placement alone may not pass for the trade dress, because it could possibly be classified as functional. But, everything put together, which includes non-functional dress, could possibly be covered by trade dress, as the look and feel of my game is well known, can be associated with my company, and plays a large role in the success of the game. My game in free and paid form combined, has over a million downloads. The look and feel of the game is usually one of the first things customers comment on, and has been carried into my second game, which has been successful as well in no small part by the interface.

Again, quoting the Wikipedia entry:

"Trade dress may be either “inherently distinctive” or acquire distinctiveness through secondary meaning. Inherent distinctiveness means that the trade dress is so arbitrary or fanciful in relation to the product or entity it represents, that this arbitrariness itself serves to distinguish the product from others. Distinctiveness through secondary meaning means that although a trade dress is not distinctive on its face, the use of the trade dress in the market (the “good will” of the trade dress) has created an association between that trade dress and a source in the mind of the consumer.


As for the zen esthetic, --typing "Zen Garden Games" into Google brings up a plethora of games that use a zen garden theme in some capacity... clearly, you weren't the first person to use the idea for a game theme.


I agree, a zen garden theme is not unique to games in general. But there aren't any other tangram games that use it. Their new game, regardless of the legal outcome, is a cheap grab at my game's popularity. If you put my game, and their old game in front of people, and then ask them which company made the new PC game, you know they'd say it came from me. And that is where trade dress becomes the issue.

But, as you said as well, I'm no legal expert. I will be talking to a lawyer, so hopefully the reality of the situation will be known soon.

lazydog
Apr 20, 2009, 03:20 AM
Hi

Well you've asked for people's opinions so here are mine:) I don't think you will like them but I can't see how you can come to a sensible decision about this issue until you've listened to comments from both sides.

I've not actually played either of these games so I'm going completely by the pictures you've posted. Having said that my opinion is that I can't see much similarity between the iPhone game and the PC game beyond the placement of the pieces at the corners of the board. The two screen shots look very different to me. The PC game looks like it's played on a yellow board floating over a garden, and the iPhone game looks like it's played on a grainy grey stoney looking backdrop. I can't see any borders of a box etc or hint of a garden in the iPhone game. The board pieces may be green in both games but they both have very different styles.


...xcept for the fact that he borrowed my use of a selection ring to rotate the shapes. I'm fine with that, as other games use rings to rotate/manipulate game objects


It's interesting that you think it's okay for you both to use selection rings when it's not okay for you both to use a Zen garden theme, neither of which you invented. I wonder how the person who invented the selection interface feels!

b e n

CocoaPuffs
Apr 20, 2009, 03:31 AM
I'll throw my 2 cent out as well. Unless you have a lawyer on retainer for some other good reason, paying for consult when there isn't any money lost or to gain is just wasting time and money.

Email the developer and open up the discussion. I don't see any reason to sue if there's nothing to lose or gain, unless of course, you think it's principle related...and to a lot of people, that's good enough reason.

macuser1997
Apr 20, 2009, 04:04 AM
FYI, Ryan Smith is the name of the guy behind The Embassy Interactive.

Delirium39
Apr 20, 2009, 08:14 AM
Hi

Well you've asked for people's opinions so here are mine:) I don't think you will like them but I can't see how you can come to a sensible decision about this issue until you've listened to comments from both sides.

I've not actually played either of these games so I'm going completely by the pictures you've posted. Having said that my opinion is that I can't see much similarity between the iPhone game and the PC game beyond the placement of the pieces at the corners of the board. The two screen shots look very different to me. The PC game looks like it's played on a yellow board floating over a garden, and the iPhone game looks like it's played on a grainy grey stoney looking backdrop. I can't see any borders of a box etc or hint of a garden in the iPhone game. The board pieces may be green in both games but they both have very different styles.

Thanks for your comments, lazydog. I realize everyone will have their own opinion. I've talked to a lot of people about this, and there are opinions on both sides. I understand how you would think the games are different, and that neither one of us has the right to use a particular interface. Some people agree with you, and some don't. Once I talk to a lawyer, I'll know if there has been a violation. I could show that game to people, and they'd think it was a 3D version of TanZen. That is my problem with it.

It's interesting that you think it's okay for you both to use selection rings when it's not okay for you both to use a Zen garden theme, neither of which you invented. I wonder how the person who invented the selection interface feels!


From my understanding, you can't own a game mechanic. His main, and much more profitable competitor (me), sells a lot more copies than he does. He's chosen to abandon his original design, and emulate mine in his PC product. Legal or not, it's a rude move.

Delirium39
Apr 20, 2009, 08:17 AM
I'll throw my 2 cent out as well. Unless you have a lawyer on retainer for some other good reason, paying for consult when there isn't any money lost or to gain is just wasting time and money.

Email the developer and open up the discussion. I don't see any reason to sue if there's nothing to lose or gain, unless of course, you think it's principle related...and to a lot of people, that's good enough reason.

I think talking to a lawyer about my rights is sound investment for the future of my games. The App Store is growing by the minute, and it'd be nice to know the legal rules if something like this happens again. A cost for sure, but not a very big one. The developer will receive something, as soon as I know my rights.

Delirium39
Apr 20, 2009, 08:18 AM
FYI, Ryan Smith is the name of the guy behind The Embassy Interactive.

Thank you. I just knew his email, and the parent company's address.

zerogate
Apr 27, 2009, 07:48 PM
I thought is was kinda funny that the Speedtest X icon looked so much like our icon for MeterRead, but they have since changed it. You have a much more touchy problem. It's hard to say without the other person giving their side of the story.

Good luck,


Mark