Zynga threw a one-two-punch at its competitors recently over the use of a “Ville” suffix, potentially casting a chill over any game developer who dares to add a “Ville” at the end of their game name.
Consider these recent events:
- March – A European trade market office registers Zynga’s “Ville” suffix, despite initial opposition from a community called Deauville that later withdrew its opposition.
- May – Zynga sues Kobojo, the French developer of PyramidVille, a Facebook game.
- May – U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) suspends Zynga’s Trademark application for “Ville” in the US. Personally, I think the U.S. is only waiting for a copy of the European Registration certificate before they sign off on a similar trademark in the U.S. I’m not a lawyer, but if you look at U.S. Trademark Application Suspension Notice, I’m guessing that having a European registration makes it a lot easier to get the US one.
The Long and The Short
If you have a game that ends in Ville and it’s making money, there’s a chance that Zynga may come knocking. I really hope someone who can afford it would take this issue to court, because it’s not certain that Zynga would win on the similarity of the “Ville” names alone.
Zynga has trademarks on each of its Ville games (CityVille, FishVille, FarmVille, etc.) and they are claiming that PyramidVille can be mistaken for a Zynga game, which would dilute their trademark. As a result, they’re claiming damages.
Kobojo’s graphics for PyramidVille did look quite like Zynga’s, in my opinion, and with a similar sounding name that may be enough to sway the court.
But the corollary to this is that there are plenty of non-Zynga games with a “Ville” suffix that existed before Zynga’s games. I would hope a lawyer in any ZyngaVille litigation would definitely call out paragraphs 57 and 58 in the USPTO’s PDF, which is included in the link below. It does, however, require a little digging around once you open the link to find the PDF.
Until the court rules on the Kobojo PyramidVille case, developers should be very careful that your “Ville” game doesn’t look similar to any of Zynga’s games. It’s worth reading the USPTO PDF.
I’m affected as well! My domain Glitzville.com has been around for many years (well before Zynga existed) and after a few false starts, I have finally gotten round to doing serious development on the game, which has yet to be finished. As a precaution to the ZyngaVille controversy, I’ve now registered a suitable alternative domain to avoid this issue.
As a general tip for anyone developing a Web-based game, make sure you’ve registered the domain you want before you develop the game – not afterwards. There are many people out there who will spot an opportunity, register the domain, show ads on it and hope to sell it to you for a few hundred or thousands of dollars.
- U.S. Trademark Application Suspension Notice [U.S. Patent and Trademark Office]