Before it was the $100 million publisher of Guitar Hero, RedOctane was best known for making unlicensed third-party peripherals for incredibly successful rhythm games like Konami's Dance Dance Revolution. But now that it's the company with an incredibly successful game, RedOctane is taking a second look at those making unlicensed peripherals for its premiere franchise.
Last month, RedOctane and new parent company Activision filed suit against The Ant Commandos, a Chino, California-based company selling a lineup of wired and wireless guitar controllers for use with the PlayStation 2 edition of Guitar Hero. The companies allege that The Ant Commandos are guilty of a litany of offenses, including unfair competition, trademark infringement, copyright infringement, unfair and deceptive trade practices, false advertising, unjust enrichment, and more. The suit also names Hong Lip Yow as a defendant, saying The Ant Commandos is a shell company and that for all intents and purposes, he and the company are one and the same.
"Specifically, Defendants have copied the packaging of Plaintiffs' products and have used Plaintiffs' trademarks and copyrighted material in its packaging and advertising of its own products in an effort to cause confusion among consumers," the suit reads.
Where the official Guitar Hero package has the game's name in white, Gothic letters outlined in black on top of a background of flames, one of The Ant Company's controllers comes with the words "Guitar Mania" in white, Gothic letters outlined in black on top of a background of flames, the suit noted. It goes on to point out that one of the Ant Company offerings also comes with flame and skull-and-crossbones stickers for players to customize their guitars, much like the real Guitar Hero controller.
RedOctane and Activision are also taking exception to The Ant Company's claims that the controllers are fully compatible with Guitar Hero on the PS2. They allege that the controller doesn't interface properly with the game, and that tilting the controller up to activate "star power" in the game doesn't work consistently. The companies are asking a judge to rule that The Ant Company can no longer make, advertise, or sell the guitars, that it recall the guitars it has already sold, and that it turn over all materials associated with the guitars for destruction. As for monetary relief, Activision is asking for all of The Ant Company's profits, as well as damages and attorney's fees.
This suit marks a turning of legal tables for RedOctane. While it is on the plaintiff's side of this case, it has been the defendant in a pair of other recent cases. Last year, Konami filed suit against the company for selling the dance game In the Groove, claiming it infringed on patents it held with its Dance Dance Revolution series.
Earlier this year, a company called KnuckleBonz filed suit against RedOctane, claiming that it had the trademark to the Guitar Hero name. KnuckleBonz has been manufacturing guitar-themed collectible sculptures under the Guitar Hero name since 2003, though it only registered it with the US Patent and Trademark Office in September of 2005. Last month a judge denied RedOctane's request to have that case dismissed.