Edge to Edgy: iPhone Trademark Battle Fuels Fightback Fund

Anyone who read our coverage of the current debacle surrounding Mobigame’s former App Store hit Edge might have thought things couldn’t get any more heated than they already were. Well, they have.

If the furor surrounding Mobigame’s puzzler has so far escaped you, in short, its recent disappearance from the App Store is as a result of a so far only vocal trademark battle with developer Edge Games, which claims ownership of the word ‘Edge’ in game titles and various other forms of media. This is one tussle that has gone beyond a simple trademark dispute, however.

Following negative media attention regarding his case against Mobigame, Langdell has since sought to redress the balance, publishing an open letter to Mobigame on Edge Games’ website last week. In the open letter, Langdell and co. claimed they never demanded money from Mobigame.

But it’s Mobigame’s response to Langdell’s letter, itself an open letter published on Pocket Gamer made through the developer’s solicitors, that has helped heat things up. Mobigames claims Edge Games hasn’t been entirely honest in its account of the exchanges between the two parties. Mobigame’s assertion is that some of the emails published by Langdell have been falsified, with the developer working with its ISP to prove a number of them were never received.

“This is just another example of what we consider to be Mr. Langdell’s improper conduct. His ‘open letter’ is addressed to Mobigame but is clearly intended for the games industry at large and contains a number of false statements, manipulations of the truth and fabricated evidence,” Mobigame’s solicitors said on the site.

“We are clearly not the first and won’t be the last to experience these troubles and we do not propose walking away from them. If we do rebrand it will not be because Edge Games has any validity in its claims but because its conduct has made it impossible for us to trade meaningfully otherwise.”

Hopefully it won’t be too long before Mobigame’s involvement in this situation draws to a close, with a final ruling on Edge’s future on the App Store ““ either by the courts, or by Apple.

We’ve learned now from G4TV that Tim Langdell has resigned from the board of the IGDA. Langdell has responded on the IGDA message boards, saying he has done nothing wrong and will now be able to focus on other work for the IGDA without becoming a distraction.

For the gamers amongst us, Edge’s recent removal from the App Store has proved something of a nuisance–one of the iPhone’s signature stars (and a Slide To Play Must Have, no less) removed just as it was gaining a significant and adoring audience. For some in the game development community, however, Mobigame’s battle over Edge’s name stands for much more than restoring the game to the App Store.

If Edge’s departure is news to you, here’s a refresher. Mobigame removed Edge from the App Store back in May after having been contacted by a company called Edge Games, who claimed rights over the game’s name. It’s since emerged that Edge Games’ founder Tim Langdell has informed Mobigame that he believes Edge also infringes on one of his studio’s own titles, Bobby Bearing, released on the Spectrum back in 1986. Mobigame alleges that Langdell insisted the developer either drop Edge’s name (along with handing over 25% of any profits made in its time on sale), or alter it to include a reference to Bobby Bearing.

Of course, trademark battles are fairly common in all areas of business, and a company has every right to protect a name it has built from the ground up. What has angered some sectors of the development community is their belief that Edge Games has done little over the last 20 years apart from contest the use of the word ‘Edge’ across a plethora of media. Reports have also surfaced suggesting Mobigame offered to rename its game ‘Edgy,’ only to find Langdell’s company had trademarked that moniker a few days later.

Sweet, sweet Edge, will we ever see you again?

However, this could prove to be one battle too far for Edge Games. Many developers seem to be rallying behind a fund set up by development forum The Chaos Engine to fight Langdell’s claims on Mobigame.

‘After a long discussion on The Chaos Engine, we collectively agreed that while the attack on Mobigame’s title may have been legally allowed, it was certainly not in the interests of helping the smaller independent developer,’ Dean Roskell, founder of independent developer melonpunk, told us. ‘That’s something Tim Langdell claims to be fully behind, especially as part of his role on the board of the IGDA [International Game Developers Association]. So we looked at how we could help out aside from giving our well wishes and spreading the word of this questionable legal attack.’

The Chaos Engine’s fund has created a stir since its inception, with developers and gamers alike donating since it was covered in the UK trade magazine Develop.

‘We knew fighting this head on was the right thing to do. So many others have buckled under Edge Games’ onslaught of demanding legal letters, and we thought it was time that someone stepped up to fight him, to show him that the little man doesn’t stand alone in this industry and we will come together to support each other,’ Roskell continued.

Indeed, a quick trip to Edge Games’ website reveals the extent of its victories over the years. Everything from Wii peripherals with the word ‘edge’ in their title, to the respected UK games magazine Edge have licensed the name from Langdell’s firm. Edge Games even took Namco to court back in 2001 over the rights to the name ‘Soul Edge’–later retitled ‘Soul Blade’ by Namco to avoid further trouble–but lost the case. Even though that case went down as a defeat for Langdell, Namco initially knuckled under to his claim to the name.

‘We also knew that the previous cases which had gone to the courts had all ended with Edge Games losing the fight,’ Roskell stated, ‘so the chances of winning are good. It was a question of asking Mobigame if they’d allow us to help them out, and for us to start the fund in their honor and help spread the word right across the game industry. Legal battles are not cheap, and they’re certainly not on the forefront of any developers mind, especially a small two-man outfit such as Mobigame.’

And this is what Edge Games’ detractors claim is the company’s business–threatening to file suit over the name Edge, hoping the accused will concede and opt to pay a smaller license fee to Edge Games, rather than the hefty legal charges involved with taking the case to court. This allegation has been firmly refuted by Langdell himself (indeed, anyone wanting a sample of his side of the story should visit Eurogamer for his take). Regardless, The Chaos Engine is determined not to turn the fight into a personal battle, instead focusing on the precedent this could set for small, independent developers working on formats like the iPhone in the future.

‘Life as an indie developer is tough from the get go, small bands of developers working with all their heart, soul and precious hours to try and do what they love in order to make a living. It’s an uphill struggle, even without the hindrance of pointless legal disputes from companies that show no signs of compassion for this industry,’ Roskell concluded.

‘As a fellow independent developer that’s just getting started, I personally look to companies like Mobigame for inspiration and reassurance that it’s actually possible to survive in this harsh industry. So when news of attacks like this appear it’s a very scary thing. You have so many roles to fill as an independent, not only are you charged with developing the ideas and the games themselves, but also the marketing, sales, testing and support.

‘So when someone throws a legal letter your way saying cough up 25 per cent of everything you’ve achieved so far or face harsh penalties, you’re then forced to put on a legal hat too and start working a whole new role, one that could make the difference between making a living or bankruptcy. It’s comforting to know that being indie doesn’t mean being alone. As developers we’re all in the same boat, and the actions of The Chaos Engine show that we can stick together to help each other out when we need to.’

And that’s the crux of the issue. For The Chaos Engine and its supporters, Edge Games’ claim on Mobigame’s Edge has gone way beyond a top title being withdrawn from the App Store. Edge now stands as an example of the fragile state of independent development.