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Activision Beats Gibson in Court: Patent doesn’t Apply to Guitar Hero

court judgmentThe Gibson Les Paul is an icon. Bob Marley was entombed in a mausoleum with his. Duane Allman used one.  Slash, the Edge, Mick Jones, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Neil Young, Paul McCartney – some of the biggest names in Rock have played it. It’s no surprise, given that, that Activision licensed the guitar’s likeness (and Gibson’s brand) to give game players an axe to shred for the Guitar Hero game franchise.   What was a surprise was that Gibson turned on its partner of three years with patent infringement claim last year

Showing teeth that seemed to come out of nowhere, Gibson said Activision’s Guitar Hero franchise, and eventually,  all things guitar-gaming (Gibson also sued EA, MTV Networks, Harmonix and major retailers selling Guitar Hero or Rock Band games), infringed on its prior invention.  

From the start, Gibson’s claims looked weak

The patent, issued to Gibson on November 23, 1999 ( PDF) and dubbed the “405 Patent” for the case, pertained to a Gibson invention for “the generation and control of a simulated musical concert experience and participation by a musician in a pre-recorded musical performance using a musical instrument as the control device.”

The case hinged on the interpretation of a few words and phrases in the patent. It appeared, “The glove didn’t fit.”  (A review of the case and the patent law standards are reported in detail in prior Metue coverage here).

It’s taken a year but the first court to rule on the matter has agreed.   

On February 26th, Activision Blizzard won a summary judgment from the United States District Court, Central District of California (The full Court ruling is embedded below). 

“No reasonable person of ordinary skill in the relevant arts would interpret the ‘405 patent as covering interactive video games,” Judge Mariana Pfaelzer wrote.

At this point, it’s almost, but not quite, over.  Several related cases in Tennessee were stayed until the U.S. District Court of Central California ruled.  With the California proceedings out of the way, the Tennessee cases will now pick up but the result should be more of the same.

 [The complete court filing ordering summary judgment is embedded below]

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