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

European StartUp Scene

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. Trista Bridges explores the “Ville” wars, as Kynga sues French Kobojo for using “ville” in their PyramidVille game


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…

5 Responses

  1. Pierre Chapuis

    You can *patent* a word in the US?

    • Liam Boogar

      It’s called “Trademarking” – it’s the reason I can’t call this site “TechCrunch but better.” The argument is whether, by using the word “Ville,” Kobojo is harnassing the network the Zynga has built and misleading consumers into thinking hat PyramidVille is a Zynga game, when it isn’t.

    • Pierre Chapuis

      OK with that. I think the sentence  “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” originally read “Zynga doesn’t hold the trademark yet (…)” so that confused me.
      Regarding Zinga’s claim, I think it’s preposterous, especially when you know their “original” game in the *Ville series is a complete rip off… http://allfacebook.com/zynga-farmville_b6260

    • Liam Boogar

      we made an update to the sentence based on your (Awesome) comment.
      For the claim: again, as much as it may be a rip-off, there is very little doubt that if I tell you i’m playing a game on facebook called *Insert Word here*Ville, you’ll probably think to yourself “oh, that must be another Zynga game” — US law gets a little fuzzy on how to measure whether consumers ‘reflexes’ can affect profits for companies, and whether things like this should be regulated/reimboursed. Think of it this way: Social games spend X amount of time on facebook playing games, no more, no less. If Kobojo is attracting their attention USING Zynga’s “brand” (questionable, I know, hence the court case), then they are essentially driving revenue away from Zynga. In a capitalist country like the US, that can merit a lawsuit, if proven.
      It’s not a question of morality or ethics in terms of having the patent on the idea of the game, it’s just a question of trademark infringement – Zynga hasn’t filed for the “-Ville” trademark, but it’s possible they have a good enough case for it. 

    • Pierre Chapuis

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