Candy Crushing Trademark
King.com, the makers of the wildly popular “match 3” online game Candy Crush Saga, have withdrawn their trademark application on game use of the word “Candy” following a series of protracted controversies in advance of their upcoming initial public offering. The company, which still owns the trademark in the EU, had initially applied in the US in February of 2013. The response by the Internet community was overwhelmingly negative, as game developers tried to organize a mass “Candy Jam”, encouraging people to develop their own games with the word Candy in the name. Even worse, Albert Ransom of Runsome Apps, who had been trying to prevent King from acquiring the Candy Crush mark for years, sued King claiming that King had in fact infringed the trademark on his game “Candy Swipe”, which predated Candy Crush by two years. Because Candy Crush is much more well-known, some consumers were confused by the two games and inferred mistakenly that Candy Swipe was in fact the knockoff. Cursory looks at the games do reveal several similarities, such as the terminology “Sweet”, and similar colors and shapes of candy. On the other hand, however, both games are Match 3 games in the vein of the venerable Bejeweled and have different mechanics. In response, King.com acquired the rights to a trademark for Candy Crusher, a game by a different developer which has existed since 2004, and counterclaimed against Ransom by using the tacking doctrine. This essentially allowed them to portray the two games as part of a continued commercial impression, with Candy Crush only being a modification of the older trademark. By tacking and purchasing the earlier mark, King.com was able to circumvent the lateness of Candy Crush saga. Legally, their argument appears to be sound, if a little underhanded. Ransom subsequently gave up the legal fight but not before penning an open letter railing against King’s use of Candy Crush Saga as a trademark and the tactics they used to protect that mark.
In the aftermath of the Candy Swipe controversy, King.com has ultimately decided to abandon trying to trademark the word candy on its own in the US, opting instead to use Candy Crusher, their line of defense against Ransom, more generally. According to a spokesman for King.com, “each market that King operates in is different, with regard to IP…The rights to Candy Crusher is the best option for protecting Candy Crush in the U.S. This does not affect our E.U. trademark for Candy”. King’s decision is perhaps the wiser one given that the initial legal fight over Candy Swipe only highlighted the immense difficulties associated with attempting to protect intellectual property rights to a simply candy theme in a Match 3 game, let alone the word Candy on its own. However, the same legal fight has done no favors for King’s public relations, as it only reinforces the idea that large, powerful companies have a massive advantage over little-known small game developers in the fight over intellectual property rights.