Claim: King Digital Entertainment, maker of Candy Crush Saga, copied their game from CandySwipe and is attempting to cancel the latter's trademark.
Example:[Collected via e-mail, February 2014]
There is an "open letter" being circulated that is supposed to have been written by an Albert Ransom from Runsome Apps, Inc, that states that he trademarked a game called CandySwipe prior to King.com creating CandyCrush and that King.com is trying to take over his trademark. Is this true?
Origins: In February 2014, King Digital Entertainment, the company behind the massively popular Candy Crush Saga game, announced they had filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to issue an Initial Public Offering (IPO) of stock. King said they expected to raise $500 million in capital, with some analysts predicting that the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) could value the company as high as $5.5 billion based largely on the strength of Candy Crush Saga:
The game, which involves matching brightly coloured sweets on a grid to solve various puzzles, was played over 1 billion times a day in December , according to the filing. Candy Crush is free but players pay for options within the game. It has proved a lucrative combination.
King's profits grew over 7,000% last year, according to the filing. In 2012 the company's revenues were $164.4 million and its net profit $7.8 million, in 2013 those figures rose to $1.88 billion and $567.6 million respectively.
But the filing also reveals that King's fortunes are currently closely tied to the continued success of Candy Crush. The game accounts for 78% of King's total gross bookings, according to the filing. Its second most popular game, Pet Rescue Saga, had 15 million daily active users in December, a fraction of Candy Crush's 93 million. King noted in its filing that "a small number of games currently generate a substantial majority of our revenue."
However, King has been the subject of controversy due to similarities between Candy Crush Saga and CandySwipe, the latter being an earlier iteration of a comparable game concept and visual design which its creator, independent developer Albert Ransom, maintains King copied from him. Ransom posted an open letter to King on the CandySwipe web site, criticizing the company for attempting to wrest the
CandySwipe trademark away from him:
Congratulations! You win! I created my game CandySwipe in memory of my late mother who passed away at an early age of 62 of leukemia. I released CandySwipe in 2010 five months after she passed and I made it because she always liked these sorts of games. In fact, if you beat the full version of the android game, you will still get the message saying "... the game was made in memory of my mother, Layla ..." I created this game for warmhearted people like her and to help support my family, wife and two boys 10 and 4. Two years after I released CandySwipe, you released Candy Crush Saga on mobile; the app icon, candy pieces, and even the rewarding, "Sweet!" are nearly identical. So much so, that I have hundreds of instances of actual confusion from users who think CandySwipe is Candy Crush Saga, or that CandySwipe is a Candy Crush Saga knockoff. So when you attempted to register your trademark in 2012, I opposed it for "likelihood of confusion" (which is within my legal right) given I filed for my registered trademark back in 2010 (two years before Candy Crush Saga existed). Now, after quietly battling this trademark opposition for a year, I have learned that you now want to cancel my CandySwipe trademark so that I don't have the right to use my own game's name. You are able to do this because only within the last month you purchased the rights to a game named Candy Crusher (which is nothing like CandySwipe or even Candy Crush Saga). Good for you, you win. I hope you're happy taking the food out of my family's mouth when CandySwipe clearly existed well before Candy Crush Saga.
I have spent over three years working on this game as an independent app developer. I learned how to code on my own after my mother passed and CandySwipe was my first and most successful game; it's my livelihood, and you are now attempting to take that away from me. You have taken away the possibility of CandySwipe blossoming into what it has the potential of becoming. I have been quiet, not to exploit the situation, hoping that both sides could agree on a peaceful resolution. However, your move to buy a trademark for the sole purpose of getting away with infringing on the CandySwipe trademark and goodwill just sickens me.
This also contradicts your recent quote by Riccardo in "An open letter on intellectual property" posted on your website which states, "We believe in a thriving game development community, and believe that good game developers — both small and large — have every right to protect the hard work they do and the games they create."
I myself was only trying to protect my hard work.
I wanted to take this moment to write you this letter so that you know who I am. Because I now know exactly what you are. Congratulations on your success!
Ransom's statement was penned in response to King's own open letter on the trademark issue, in which the company maintained that they were simply acquiring "Candy"-related trademarks in order to ensure that their "hard work is not simply copied elsewhere" and to defend their product against "games with similar sounding titles and similar looking graphics" (without commenting on the claim that the similar CandySwipe game antedated Candy Crush Saga by about two years and therefore could not have been copied from the latter):
There has been a vigorous debate both inside and outside King about how we protect our intellectual property. I want to set the record straight about where we stand on these issues, and clarify our philosophy on intellectual property.
At its simplest, our policy is to protect our IP and to also respect the IP of others.
We believe in a thriving game development community, and believe that good game developers — both small and large — have every right to protect the hard work they
do and the games they create.
Like any responsible company, we take appropriate steps to protect our IP, including our look-and-feel and trademarks. Our goals are simple: to ensure that our employees' hard work is not simply copied elsewhere, that we avoid player confusion and that the integrity of our brands remains.
Let’s talk about trademarks, and the use of the words "Candy" and "Saga" in casual gaming.
Let's start with the fact that Candy Crush Saga has become one of the most successful casual games in history. Millions of people play the game every day. Not surprisingly, some developers have seen an opportunity to take advantage of the game's popularity, and have published games with similar sounding titles and similar looking graphics. We believe it is right and reasonable to defend ourselves from such copycats.
To protect our IP, last year we acquired the trademark in the EU for "Candy" from a company that was in bankruptcy — and we have filed for a similar trademark in the U.S. We've been the subject of no little scorn for our actions on this front, but the truth is that there is nothing very unusual about trademarking a common word for specific uses. Think of "Time", "Money" "Fortune", "Apple", and "Sun", to name a few. We are not trying to control the world's use of the word "Candy"; having a trade mark doesn't allow us to do that anyway. We're just trying to prevent others from creating games that unfairly capitalise on our success.
As Metro chimed in, however, even though King may appear to be the villain in this story, neither side may be correct in claiming the high ground since both CandySwipe and Candy Crush Saga are notably similar to other games dating from the mid-1990s (although the two parties are engaged in a tussle over trademarks, not copyright):
Part legal drama, part time travel story, this one has it all. Candy Crush developer King have been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons lately, as they continue their attempts to trademark the words 'candy' and 'saga' — which led to them threatening to sue Viking game 'The Banner Saga.'
For an encore it later transpired that King had purposefully cloned somebody else's game when a publishing deal fell through. Which was sadly ironic considering how paranoid they are about other people copying them.
And now they're responding with legal action of their own, against the makers of CandySwipe, by claiming that it's a clone. Despite the fact that Candy Swipe came out two years before Candy Crush.
In fact it's worse than that, as King’s attempts to have CandySwipe's trademark cancelled revolves around them buying the rights to an even earlier game called Candy Crusher. This, they hope, will allow them to claim that they are the original trademark holders of everything video game and candy-related.
Although it's hard not to side with Ransom in all this, the idea of all these developers suing each other over who cloned who seems slightly absurd considering they're all just copies of Bejeweled anyway.
Indeed, the modern match-three style puzzler has barely changed at all since the days of Nintendo's Panel De Pon/Tetris Attack in 1995. Although the true originator of the concept is little known PC title Shariki, from a year earlier.
Metro also reported an attempt by developers to challenge King's trademark maneuvering by creating "as many games with the word candy in them as possible":
Indie developers have fought back against developer King's increasingly bizarre legal actions with a game jam called 'Candy Jam'.
To the uninitiated it may look like just another Bejeweled clone, but Candy Crush Saga is currently one of the most popular video games in the world. This means British developer King suddenly has a lot of power and influence, which naturally it's already started to abuse.
It's the slightly unhinged nature of the abuse which is unexpected though, with the company currently trying to trademark the word 'candy' so that nobody else can use it.
But King's plans don't stop there, as they're also suing Kickstarter game 'The Banner Saga' because it has the word 'saga' in its name.
Ignoring the fact that most people omit the word Saga when saying Candy Crush's name, 'The Banner Saga' is an adult-themed tactical role-playing game with a notably morose atmosphere. Although it does contain lots of angry vikings, at no point in the game are you invited to match together three-similarly coloured sweets.
Even so King’s legal filing insists that: "The use and registration by Applicant of the mark The Banner Saga for Applicant's goods is likely to cause confusion or to cause mistake or deception in the trade, and among purchasers and potential purchasers, with Opposer's Saga Marks, again resulting in damage to Opposer."
We're trying to keep upbeat but frankly the whole business is deeply depressing in its unbridled corporate greed. The only positive element to the story is that indie developers have organised an event called Candy Jam to protest King's actions and to make as many games with the word candy in them as possible.
The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) has also weighed in on the issue, describing King's trademark efforts as "overreaching" and "predatory":
As an advocacy organization for game developers, the IGDA diligently monitors issues that may restrict a developer's ability to create and distribute his or her work. After reviewing the Trademark filing and subsequent conduct by King Inc. in relation to its popular game, 'Candy Crush Saga,' we feel we should comment.
While we understand and respect the appropriate exercise of Trademark rights, King's overreaching filing in its application for the Trademark for its game "Candy Crush Saga," and its predatory efforts to apply that mark to each separate word contained in that name, are in opposition to the values of openness and cooperation we support industry wide, and directly contradict the statement King's CEO, Riccardo Zacconi, made on 27 January. Our Business and Legal Special Interest Group will be providing a more comprehensive analysis of this issue from its perspective soon.