Bethesda Softworks, IP Troll

Mojang, the Swedish-based game developer behind MineCraft, has a new game coming out. It’s called Scrolls, and as far as I can figure out, it is the computer game hybrid of Magic the Gathering and Settlers of Catan. As described by developer Jacob Porser,

“At the core it’s a collectable card game, but it’s also a board game… It’s combining the two. As you place your units or your buildings, or your siege weapons, you place it on the game board to play against your opponent. It’s not only about designing a proper collection of scrolls [cards], and the tactical aspect of that deck, but it’s also about the tactical sense of how to place your units on the game board.”

Each scroll is essentially the same as an individual Magic card. This makes “Scrolls” a pretty obvious name for the game — and Mojang has already put a fair bit of money and effort into the branding:

“It’s always been Scrolls to me,” adds Carl Manneh, Mojang’s CEO, who joined the company a few months ago. “I think it’s a great name.” It seems pretty amazing that they managed to get the URLs. I ask if they [were] free? Both laugh, and shake their heads. So how did they get them? Carl explains, “It helps when you’ve got some cash.”

So while it’s still a little bit unclear exactly what Scrolls is going to be, it is clear that it is not going to be anything like a quest-based, sandbox RPG. In other words, it will be absolutely nothing like Morrowind or Oblivion or any other game in Bethesda Softworks’ The Elder Scrolls series.

Bethesda Softworks is not one to let such minor details get in the way of a good IP fight, however, and the company is now suing Mojang in Sweden for trademark infringement, over Mojang’s use of the Scrolls mark. According to Notch, Mojang’s owner,

I got a 15 page letter from some Swedish lawyer firm, saying they demand us to stop using the name Scrolls, that they will sue us (and have already paid the fee to the Swedish court), and that they demand a pile of money up front before the legal process has even started.

Currently, there is no lawsuit in the United States. Although Mojang filed a trademark application for Scrolls [PDF] in the U.S. on May 17, 2011, as it usually takes four months for the USPTO to get around to reviewing a trademark filing, a decision on the application won’t be expected until some time next month. Then, if the USPTO has no objections to the Scrolls mark, Bethesda Softworks’ parent company will then have 30 days to file a Notice of Opposition to it, and make its case that there is a likelihood of confusion between the two game titles.

In other words, expect the Bethesda vs. Mojang battle to be opening a second front over here in the States sometime around mid-October.

But do Bethesda’s objections to the Scrolls mark have any merit? While I couldn’t quite label them frivolous, they are unquestionably silly — the risk of consumer confusion here is close to nil, as there is no self-respecting gamer on earth that is going to try to buy Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and accidentally end up buying Scrolls: The Gathering instead. Nor are they going to see Scrolls and go, “Gee, I wonder if this is the Oblivion card game!” No one even calls The Elder Scolls games “the Elder Scrolls games”; for that matter, hardly anyone seems to know what the “elder scrolls” of the series’ title are even supposed to be.

So in honor of Bethesda Softworks’ attempt to bully Mojang into abandoning the game title by threatening Mojang with rounds of expensive litigation, I have made Bethesda its own scroll. I hope Notch adds it to the game:

-Susan