Appearances can be deceptive – trademark law

Sometimes, trademark issues come about because of images, not words.

Recently, online games company Zynga become embroiled in a dispute with Mattel, the world’s biggest toy manufacturer.

Zynga developed a word game for mobile devices called Scramble With Friends, where players have to find words in grids. Mattel argued that the word ‘Scramble’ was too close to ‘Scrabble’, the famous board game that is also available as an app.

The result? Mr Justice Peter Smith disagreed with Mattel. But what he did say was that Zynga’s logo for the game had to change, because the curly M gave the impression that the game is called Scrabble when one looks at it quickly, and has the propensity to confuse’.

So what can we learn from this? Well, that actually there’s a lot to be said for using common sense when planning how you brand something.

I think if you were to randomly survey 100 people and ask them how close the word ‘scramble’ is to ‘scrabble’, the vast majority would say that they’re not particularly close– and certainly not close enough for confusion.

But when you compare the logo for Scramble With Friends with the iconic Scrabble branding, you can clearly see more of an issue. Getting inspiration from a market leader is one thing, piggy-backing on their success is quite another.

So, Zynga have to change the logo for their game, but not the name. Which feels about right. But Mattel still aren’t happy – they are planning to appeal the decision. Who knows what the outcome will be, but this is a problem that can be avoided.

I feel it’s probably appropriate to point out that, although Mattel are a massive company, Zynga are by no means an insignificant player in the gaming industry. They were valued at $1bn when they made their stock market debut in December 2011 and, despite mixed revenue results, they’re still making serious money. They simply shouldn’t have even allowed this to happen.

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