If you want to use the word "Edge" in a videogame, Tim Langdell would like to have a word with you. Or perhaps a nice lawsuit.
Eight months ago David Papazian was on top of the world. His company, Mobigame, had just released its first videogame for the iPhone. In the space of just a few weeks it had won two prestigious awards. The past two years of early mornings, late nights and tireless endeavour were set to pay off; the sacrifices had been worth it, the indie developer dream was coming true.
Today, he sits dejected and worn. Banned in the UK, USA and Germany, his game may be critically acclaimed but, for most, it is also impossible to buy. On 15th July, 2009, just one week after Apple nominated Mobigame's debut title as one of their 'Top 30 Favourite iPhone Games', it was removed from the App Store. Not because it's unfinished, or because it might damage your hardware, nor any of the usual reasons that software is removed from sale. Rather, it's banned because of its name: Edge.
That's because "The Edge" is a registered trademark of "The Edge," a 1980s relic game company formerly known as "Softek: Masters of Development." Though the company's actual output of games released since 1990 would make 3D Realms, of "Duke Nukem Forever" fame, seem industrious, The Edge, and its President Tim Langdell, have marked up impressive revenues in trademark litigation.
Any developer or programmer attempting to release a game using the word "Edge" places itself at risk of an infringement notice, a cease-and-desist order, and a lawsuit from The Edge, Langdell, and company. This despite the fact that "Edge" is such such a commonly used word, on its own and in combinations like "Bleeding Edge," "Cutting Edge," and "Edge of This, That, Or The Other Thing" that one doubts the distinctiveness of the mark, as generic a term as can be imagined, much less a likelihood of confusion, which is required to establish a claim of infringement.
Unfortunately, as small-time developers like Mobigame whose story is linked above can attest, the damages and legal fees which can result from a successful trademark infringement claim, even one involving a word as generic as Timothy Langdell's "The Edge," can be catastrophic. Better to fork over, or name one's product something else (though Langdell has never, to my knowledge, published a game called "Edge") than to take the risk that a company whose primary business may be trademark litigation will strike.
In fact, what games does "The Edge" publish? Its primary product seems to be Bobby Bearing, a retread from the 1980s which is licensed for mobile phones and retro-on-demand services like Gametap:
which bears an uncanny resemblance to Atari's "Marble Madness," published years earlier:
Mobigames, through its counsel, disputes that "The Edge" is a valid trademark registration in the first place, disputing the distinctiveness of the term, in other words that it's absolutely generic. That may or may not fly, but there can be little doubt as to The Edge's record against deeper pocketed defendants such as Marvel Entertainment, which The Edge litigated and lost to over the terms "Cutting Edge," "Double Edge," and "Over the Edge."
But the distinctiveness, or lack thereof, of the term aside, The Edge's, and Langdell's, pattern of threat and litigation, while not actually publishing any games, illustrates a weakness in the US and world intellectual property system. The very point of a trade or service mark is to protect value in a distinctive name for a distinctive product. By repeatedly making threats, filing suits and disputes, whatever value there may have been in the name, "The Edge," has been destroyed by Langdell and the company itself. Any product the company may, some day in the distant future, produce will have little value because it's attached to a "trademark troll." While the point of a trademark is to protect a good name, The Edge has no good name to protect.
Meanwhile, The Edge sits like a bloated spider at the center of its trademark web, pulling in flies like Mobigame for the sin of using a verboten, yet utterly nondistinctive word. It's possible the company's most valuable asset is its claim to ownership of a word. It certainly doesn't appear to be making games.
Use it or lose it.
Thanks to reader Tom Lawrence for the tip.