The ‘Ville’ Wars: Zynga attacking Kobojo over use of the word ‘Ville’

May 9, 2012
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Zynga has decided to launch a US lawsuit against french gaming firm Kobojo for using the suffix ‘ville’ in the title of their popular game PyramidVille.   Apparently Zynga requested that the startup change the name of PyramidVille but  Kobojo refused to so.  As a result, Zynga took the decision to launch the lawsuit which, in addition to legally attempting to force the use of ‘ville’ in Kobojo’s game title in the US, Zynga have also asked for damages equalling 3X the profit that Kobojo generates from PyramidVille.  PyramidVille emerged out of a partnership between Kobojo and BulkyPix and was launched on Facebook last year.  Zynga’s rationale for the lawsuit is that gamers on Facebook immediately associate games with the word ‘ville’ in their title as a part of Zynga’s suite of ‘ville’ games (i.e. Cityville, Farmville, etc.).  Thus, this ‘infringement’ puts their brand, franchise and, ultimately, revenues and profitability at risk.  You can read all about the lawsuit, including the full complaint here.   Apparently Kobojo is not the only firm facing Zynga’s wrath over the ‘ville’ issue as Zynga have also decided to go after other gamemakers that use the word in their game titles.

Trademark and IP infringement are serious and are things that many startups deal with at some stage during their development.  However, this case to seems particularly questionable.  Firstly, ‘ville’ is a pretty generic term.  I’m sure that there are several cases of companies that have managed to trademark generic terms, but that doesn’t mean that’s a good thing. Secondly, Zynga doesn’t hold the trademark yet for the word ‘ville’ because their request has apparently been suspended (at least temporarily) by the US Patent office.  So, they don’t actually own the trademark, but they can still have a legal claim?  I’m not an attorney, so perhaps someone here can chime in on whether this would actually hold up in court.

I haven’t seen an official comment yet from Kobojo, but I suspect that, as is often the case with these types of legal challenges, it’s best to hold off and let things play out a bit before commenting.  A suivre…