Gibson frets retailers with Guitar Hero patent suit

Instrument maker files suit against vendors to keep Activision's rhythm game off store shelves; publisher says case stems from refusal to renew support.

As one of the most lucrative franchises in gaming, Activision's Guitar Hero franchise has acted as a lightning rod for litigation and lawsuits. Last week alone, the popular rhythm game inspired two suits, one involving former Guitar Hero developers Harmonix and the other concerning content licensor Gibson Guitar Inc. While the former was settled as suddenly and quickly as it was filed, the latter continues to linger on.

In a letter sent to Activision in January, Gibson alleged that the Guitar Hero franchise infringes upon a patent the music instrument manufacturer filed in 1999 for "technology for simulating a musical performance." As per Gibson's patent, the product involves using instruments to simulate a live performance, and provides for a 3D headset with stereo speakers and a prerecorded concert using instruments to simulate a live performance. Gibson subsequently requested that Activision "obtain a license under Gibson's...patent or halt sales of any version of the 'Guitar Hero' game software."

Taking umbrage with this claim, Activision filed suit in the US District Court of Central California, asking the court to invalidate Gibson's patent and prevent the guitar maker from seeking damages. Today, Gibson has responded in kind to Activision's legal wrangling, regretfully announcing that it had brought suit against a number of retailers that it claims are selling the allegedly patent-infringing Guitar Hero products.

"On Monday, March 17, Gibson Guitar Corp. brought a lawsuit against various retailers, which are selling Guitar Hero products that are infringing on one of Gibson Guitar's U.S. patents," reads Gibson's statement. "Gibson Guitar took this action reluctantly, but is required to protect its intellectual property and will continue to do so against any other person in accordance with the law and its rights."

"Gibson had tried to settle this issue by negotiating directly with Activision as soon as the patent filed through one of Gibson's divisions was discovered and validated by outside counsel," the statement continued. "Activision chose to initiate litigation without notice to Gibson. Now, Gibson must pursue enforcement of its patent which predates the launch of the Guitar Hero game by several years."

While Activision wasn't party to Gibson's suit, the megapublisher was quick to respond, once again dismissing Gibson's claims and saying it would continue to support its retail partners.

"Gibson's lawsuit is a transparent end run around an impartial court that Activision asked on March 11 to rule on patent assertions that Gibson knows have no merit," reads Activision's statement. "Our Guitar Hero retailing partners have done nothing wrong. We will confront this and any other efforts by Gibson to wrongfully interfere with Activision's relationship with its customers and its consumers."

Activision also reiterated what it believes to be the cause for the abruptly soured relations with Gibson, saying the guitar maker has raised is patent infringement claims after three years due to the fact that "Activision was not interested in renewing its marketing and support agreement with Gibson."

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181 comments
Smoolander
Smoolander

Gibson Corporate Counsel - "Quick we haven't done anything this financial year, someone go through our list of patents to see who we can sue for a tenuous patent breach" Enforcement Officer - "Sorry son, that air guitar you are playing is an infringement of Gibson patents. You must pay us $10,000 every time you want to play that air guitar." Ah America, the land of ridiculous lawsuits.

Urlacher54
Urlacher54

This is what Activision gets for shooting down Harmonix's Rock Band PS3 guitar patch. What goes around, comes around Activision. I hope all the GHIII guitars are pulled from shelves and the only way Activision can continue to sell GHIII is to get down on its knees and BEG Harmonix to allow their Rock Band guitars to be patched to work for Guitar Hero.

Dizzy1976
Dizzy1976

If you ask me patents are turning into just another way to legally cheat people/companies out of their hard earned money.

APCTool88
APCTool88

geez as if gibson doesnt make enough money off of ther 1000 dollar guitars anyway

tom012345
tom012345

"hey can you blame them for not wanting to make another Gibson related game? Id like to see a BC Rich or Fender controller. Gibson Sucks! (sincere apologies to anyone who takes offense to my Gibson comment but I am a death metal head and typically speaking you do not see those talented musicians playing with inferior guitars...)" I believe buckethead uses a gibson and so does slash those 2 are very talented :) if u think they arnt then id like to see u play as good as them.

DiscGuru101
DiscGuru101

"Activision was not interested in renewing its marketing and support agreement with Gibson." - Burn

Rowr14
Rowr14

TENTHROW2 said "Most of you people who comment here have absolutely no idea what the lawsuit is about and just spew your retarded opinions. Gibson is sueing Activision because Gibson claims they made a patent for a virtual guitar simulator back in the late 90's and that Guitar Hero violates that patent, and want Activision to purchase a license from Gibson to sell their product under their patent. Basically it's Gibsons greedy ways of wanting to get in on the cash cow that is Guitar Hero. This has NOTHING to do with real guitars, or even the shape of the guitar hero controller. Most you should get your facts straight before clouding internet forums with your lack of comprehension." What he said, read the freaking article people. Pretty much every body commenting here seems to have no idea whats going on thus posts irrelevant crap.

theycallmeryan
theycallmeryan

Note to self: File a useless patent so that I can sue a big company and make money.

BringTheBlood
BringTheBlood

lol at jimmulvaney. love it! haha. oo and yeah i could care less about who makes the stupid guitar as long as it works. its a game, not the real guitar, boo frickin woo.

jimmulvaney
jimmulvaney

hey can you blame them for not wanting to make another Gibson related game? Id like to see a BC Rich or Fender controller. Gibson Sucks! (sincere apologies to anyone who takes offense to my Gibson comment but I am a death metal head and typically speaking you do not see those talented musicians playing with inferior guitars...;))

rpgisforme
rpgisforme

it's kinda a no win situation for anything these days if you think about it. You create something to make money but as soon as you make money you lose it in lawsuits to other people who want that money.

Nene33
Nene33

tig1979 is right, this is the best add boost Gibson's had since Guns 'n' Roses was topping the charts.

tig1979
tig1979

Bad move from Gibson i feel, GH has given them a huge ad boost, for the non-guitar players who decided to play a real guitar would nearly always go for a strat generally that being the guitar people associate with Rock music, so Gibson getting in the main stream with their guitar can surely only do wonders for their actual guitar sales?

Geek12
Geek12

But, doesnt gibson have all there guitars in GH? So why would they want to attack them?

dvros
dvros

Wow L.O.L. I wonder what it would be like if Gibson wins the suit. :]

liversnot
liversnot

So if gibson is doing this now for something that they did in the early 90's i think that is silly. If the issue is something to do with a lic. why didn't gibson say anything in the previous talks about getting their specific brand in the games? This is silly and appears to have nothing to do with gh.

ColorblindMonk
ColorblindMonk

The more the game is successful, the more leechers will want to ride it for it's cash.

polsci1503
polsci1503

This makes me really angry with Gibson. What video games have they made? Are they in the gaming business? I understand they filed a patent - but I would like to see exactly what the patent is for. What they say above sounds so vague that if I made a whistle simulator to accompany recorded music they could sue me.

teh-pwns-the
teh-pwns-the

to all of you who are whining about greedy big corporations... video games are made, to make money. IF they didn't want to make money, well they probably wouldnt be around anymore

TENTHROW2
TENTHROW2

Most of you people who comment here have absolutely no idea what the lawsuit is about and just spew your retarded opinions. Gibson is sueing Activision because Gibson claims they made a patent for a virtual guitar simulator back in the late 90's and that Guitar Hero violates that patent, and want Activision to purchase a license from Gibson to sell their product under their patent. Basically it's Gibsons greedy ways of wanting to get in on the cash cow that is Guitar Hero. This has NOTHING to do with real guitars, or even the shape of the guitar hero controller. Most you should get your facts straight before clouding internet forums with your lack of comprehension.

chickmagnet_1
chickmagnet_1

This is both good and bad. It is bad because GH has actually been getting more people interested in playing the real guitar. My friend had been playing GH and then got a real guitar because he wanted to learn to play. On the same token, it is good, because some people just stick with the game and never pick up a real guitar. That is just pathetic.

taj7575
taj7575

haha, a new ad came out for GH3. i just saw it 2day watchin college bball

rbenns2
rbenns2

If this suit has merit, why is the maker of Saint's Row not being sued for infringement by Rockstar?

Kraige
Kraige

I wonder what guitar brand it will be in GH4 then as it looks like these two have pretty much finished with each other.

Zoomer30
Zoomer30

Ahhh "patent squatting", its the new way to make money and not have to compete. Good ol RIM really started something big (they had some obscure patent that almost killed off Blackberries)

leafs_fan1
leafs_fan1

The reason that Gibson would sue Activision, and not Harmonix, is that Harmonix is a small company who have just made their first mega-hit game, while Activision is a giant international publisher (with lots o' cash). They could expect a successful suit on Harmonix to bankrupt them, i.e. no more royalties :( , but Activision could certainly stomach it.

jtthegame316
jtthegame316

i sued duracell they never said not to shove that double aa right up my nose.

Ghosty1212
Ghosty1212

I can't believe GIbson would do this. GH 1, 2, and 3 have already been released, if they needed to sue anybody they should 've sued at GH 2. Also, I think that Harmonix could have the right to sue, it seems smart considering they got bumped out of the GH 3 loop.

Narroo
Narroo

Don't you just love over general patents people file, never use, then use to sue when someone comes up with something slightly similar?

moh2in
moh2in

According to another article, GIbson is also filing a lawsuit against Harmonix, as well as Activision. Looks like Gibson just wants some $$$, because the time for anything else has way gone by

midwinterphoto2
midwinterphoto2

Why are they filing the suit with Activision? Harmonix made 1 and 2, long before Activision had anything to do with Guitar Hero. Shouldn't Gibson's qualm be with Harmonix?

troopershades
troopershades

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

gamecubepad
gamecubepad

Why limit Guitar Hero to Gibson? How about some Ibanez, BC Rich, or Jackson guitars. Why would Gibson sign a licensing agreement if they thought of the same idea years before? Sounds like a last chance grab for cash before they get cut from Guitar Hero.

buzzguy
buzzguy

I agree, Spanky. Can't they all just get along, for the sake of rock n' roll, man?

spanky333
spanky333

This is a gluttonous cash grab, and I say that as a professional musician who plays Gibson guitars on stage every night. Guitar Hero is not only advertising Gibson products to millions of kids world wide, but also showing them how much fun it is to play music in the first place. Gibson's lawyers need to target someone else and back the hell off of Guitar Hero. Very not rock n roll.

chibi-acer
chibi-acer

Suing retailers for sale of a product that is still under contest for infringement is retarded, yet happens way too often. It's basically a "legal" way to bully people into getting what you want.

Quezakolt
Quezakolt

the thing is Harmonix came up with Amplitude which dates way back and is the exact same thing as guitar hero except its techno music. I think Gibson is trying to make money.

buzzguy
buzzguy

StreetFighter10 wrote: "I would have thought the fact you are holding a piece of plastic with no strings and some brightly coloured buttons was enough to take you out of the experience by itself. If you want a Gibson license, buy a real guitar and put even a fraction of the effort into learning that." I meant "in-game", when you go into the shop and buy guitars to use on-stage. You gotta have the real designs for that! BTW, I find the last point hilarious, since I've been a bassist since like, um, '92.

Hairy_Pirate
Hairy_Pirate

Kind of strange how this information surfaces after so many years. Why are they not going after the Rock Band creaters? (Would someone please message me how this works. Activision is getting sued because they publish the game and make money on it... right? What about Harmonix making the first 2 games? Will the money they recieved also be subject to Gibsons claims? Could Neversoft also be hurt?)

StreetFighter10
StreetFighter10

"You got to have real guitar licences in these games. Like I'm going to want to wail on-screen with a fake made-up design and guitar name. It's lame, and kind of takes you out of the experience. Hopefully this will all get settled soon." I would have thought the fact you are holding a piece of plastic with no strings and some brightly coloured buttons was enough to take you out of the experience by itself. If you want a Gibson license, buy a real guitar and put even a fraction of the effort into learning that.

hazuki
hazuki

Seems like if you take away call of duty, everyone is hating on activision now. With, good reason though. EA, for activision not letting them use their guitars on ps3. Then now gibson, with all these patents. Retail copies of gh3 on wii are still mono. Still can't use those ps3 guitars on rock band. A rumors going around saying you can't use the ds fat on the ds guitar hero. Anybody else think that Activision is seriously becoming the older style of EA?

CaptainHerlock
CaptainHerlock

rhezkim, to me it looks like Gibson created some kind of music simulation program about eight or nine years ago. They patented it and then it got filed away. Now some lawyers found it and thus the reason for the lawsuit. The thing that struck me was this part... "Gibson had tried to settle this issue by negotiating directly with Activision as soon as the patent filed through one of Gibson's divisions was discovered and validated by outside counsel," Notice the term "outside counsel". This looks like a buzzword for lawyers who do not directly work for the company. I think we have a couple of what's referred to as "ambulance chasers" on our hands trying to ruin it for everyone.

buzzguy
buzzguy

You got to have real guitar licences in these games. Like I'm going to want to wail on-screen with a fake made-up design and guitar name. It's lame, and kind of takes you out of the experience. Hopefully this will all get settled soon.

Jaeme
Jaeme

Activision wanted the Gibson name when Guitar Hero started out to help push the Guitar Hero brand and give it some legitimacy. Now the deal is working the other way, and Activision no longer needs any help to get the GH name front and centre. This could actually benefit Activision by allowing them to design any style of guitar they could imagine instead of being tied to the Gibson look, or reality for that matter. Being able to sell more than just face plates, but entire bodies, or even some of the even wilder designs (headless guitars like those used by Johnny Winters, or even the scythe designs used by Death in game) opens up a cash-o-rama which is what Activision really cares about, but could never do with a Gibson license.

Plucking
Plucking

to rhezekim - activision and gibson were partners in making the controller look like a les paul guitar, and to use images of gibson guitars in the games, however in 1999 gibson put a patent on the "idea" of simulating a live concert, via the idea of guitar hero, even though gibsons idea was totally different and in no way used a video game console as the means to distribute the idea, i doubt anything will come of this, as it seems gibson is pulling strings to try to get a settlement from a huge company, or in a long shot, a percentage of guitar hero sales, now the question is are they going after rockband too?

ColdfireTrilogy
ColdfireTrilogy

Well i think its about time i patend a simulated game that involves shooting on a monitor using a mouse and keyboard because if i can get that to pass then basically ill be filthy rich ......

Slash_out
Slash_out

"Gibson Guitar took this action reluctantly, but is required to protect its intellectual property and will continue to do so against any other person in accordance with the law and its rights." Yeah right. Seems like to me that your intelectual property is just bogus. And you are just after some free bucks.

CAMPKILLJER
CAMPKILLJER

They say drugs are bad...but money is the worst drug of all. "squeegee your third eye, eat psilocyben mushrooms." -Bill Hicks RIP

rhezekim
rhezekim

Man this article makes me feel stupid, like I am reading a foreign language, I don't understand what the law suit is about. Is it that the wireless Les Paul guitar "looks" like a guitar when in fact it's only a controller, is it the wired guitar, or are they suing because in the game when you buy guitars in the guitar store, that these images resemble Gibson guitars? I wish this article was a little more clear on that point and just how it's supposed to affect future sales, and is Rock Band next on the list of game companies to get sued? How will this effect future games coming out like GH Aerosmith? Lastly, how come you can only buy the wireless guitar as a bundle, and that it's not sold separately? By the way the warranty for GHIII wireless guitar stinks, it's only 60 days whereas Rock Band told me their's has no time limit.