If you own a smart phone, you are no doubt familiar with Zynga’s infamous Words with Friends. An almost exact copy of Scrabble, with some changes to point values of letters, Words with Friends became so popular it even spawned a board game to rival the very board game it originally ripped off.
Unknown to me until today, outside of the U.S.A. and Canada the Scrabble trademark is owned by Mattel. And Mattel has now attempted to enforce its trademarks against Zynga, taking the fight to the English Court System first to the High Courts and then to the Court of Appeals.
But strangely enough, NOT for Words with Friends. The straw that broke the toy company’s back in this case was Zynga’s release of Scramble with Friends. Zynga didn’t even rip off Scrabble in Scramble. In that game, they ripped off Boggle.
But Mattel actually holds a trademark (CTM) to not only Scrabble in England, but also the word Scramble as it applies to electronic games. And they petitioned the court over the similarity between the Scrabble and Scramble words, as well as a similarity present in the Scramble with Friends logo.
The High Court dismissed all of Mattel’s claims, after which Mattel went to Appeals for another go. Appeals instead found mostly in favor of Mattel. Scramble was indeed too similar to Scrabble, and while many generic uses of the term Scramble are all over the Internet the trademark is still valid on that too.
Will Zynga have to rebrand its game in the EU? There’s no word yet what the ruling will mean for the future. While the inability to trademark actual gameplay is just about an established legal fact, words and especially names will certainly get you into hot water. Going back to the example of Words with Friends, a visually and vocally dissimilar name attached to a clone of a game is obviously the winning combination.