The lawsuit between The Elder Scrolls developer Bethesda and independent developer Mojang has come to an end recently. The settlement sees Mojang being prohibited from using the Scrolls trademark for any future sequels even if the title enjoys major success when it releases in the future. The developer had previously attempted to achieve a compromise, allowing the indie studio to release sequels that feature a subtitle after the Scrolls name.
Notably, Mojang has been permitted to release Scrolls, a digital card game, with the title remaining intact and without having to pay for any damages. However, this came at a cost as the studio had to relinquish all ownership rights to Bethesda owner ZeniMax Media over the Scrolls trademark.
Bethesda filed the suit claiming that customers would be confused with the indie title Scrolls being related in some fashion to The Elder Scrolls series, both of which contained fantasy themes. Mojang responded with a blog entry:
A while later, out of the blue, we got contacted by Bethesda’s lawyers. They wanted to know more about the “Scrolls” trademark we were applying for, and claimed it conflicted with their existing trademark “The Elder Scrolls”. I agree that the word “Scrolls” is part of that trademark, but as a gamer, I have never ever considered that series of (very good) role playing games to be about scrolls in any way, nor was that ever the focal point of neither their marketing nor the public image.
The implication that you could own the right to all individual words within a trademark is also a bit scary.
Mojang soon received a fifteen-page letter from Bethesda’s lawyers saying that, unless the indie studio stopped using the Scrolls trademark, they would have to sue. Mojang soon decided that the company didn’t have much of a case and began to take the situation seriously. The basis of the decision in the case stems primarily from the common use of the word scrolls in the fantasy genre of titles and is therefore distinctive, and as a consequence, less important.
The case has come to an end seven months after Bethesda first threatened filed a lawsuit against Mojang for violating its Elder Scrolls trademark.
Analysis: Bethesda has been the target of a fair amount of criticism for bringing a lawsuit on to an indie developer, especially one as beloved by the gaming scene as Mojang. Personally, I understand the actions ZeniMax took; I would hope that once people think about it, they realize that the company had to protect their product’s name not only in this case, but any cases that may arise in the future.
If Bethesda had allowed Mojang to use the Scrolls name without any protest, this takes away from the company’s ability to defend their trademark in any future cases and lose a lot of traction within court. Whether they won the case or not against Mojang was somewhat insignificant as long as the company attempted to protect their trademark. It certainly isn’t pretty and is an ugly side to the industry, but it was an action that had to be taken by the company, and I would hope others come to understand this.
However, the end result appears to work well for both parties, as Mojang is allowed to keep the Scrolls title for its upcoming trading card game and Bethesda successfully defends their trademark. No hard feelings appear to be shown by the two companies; both seem to understand that this was purely business and just how lawyers and trademarks work at times.