...unless they do something with the property before then.
A fascinating article on DualShockers discusses how Activision needs to justify its ownership of the Crash Bandicoot IP before 2021, or the trademark lapses.
Yet, Activision can’t just sit on Crash Bandicoot forever. While trademarks can be renewed, andCrash‘s has indeed been renewed in 2011, there are legalities involved that ensure that a company can’t keep a name forever unless it actually uses it.
The infamous (between trademark holders, at least) Section 8 of the Lanham Act dictates that a company needs to provide a declaration of use or excusable non-use and a specimen of said use to the United States Patent and Trademark Office between the 5th and 6th year after the registration of a trademark, then between the 9th and 10th year, and subsequently every ten years.
If the company fails to provide that kind of documentation, the USPTO simply cancels the trademark and it becomes fair game.
Former Activision parent company Vivendi Games provided its latest declaration of use in 2011 (the current trademark was first registered in 2001), using the Crash Bandicoot Action Pack for PS2 as its specimen.
The next date on the calendar is quite far in the future, 2021, but by that date Activision will definitely need to do something with the franchise, or they will incur in the serious risk to lose the trademark.
Currently the publisher sells four Crash Bandicoot classics on the PSN, but they’re all exclusively for PSP and PS3 (they’ve been proven to run on Vita, but they’re not supported officially, and that’s what matters in in legal terms). In 2021 we’ll be way past the end of the life cycle of both platforms, which means that that offering will most probably be not usable anymore as a specimen for a declaration of use.
There’s actually a relevant precedent for this: earlier this year Sega lost control of the Shen Mue trademark in the U.S. because they failed to file their declaration of use (since they weren’t really using it) and didn’t find a valid excuse to justify the lack of thereof. To this date they still didn’t manage to get it back, and the only way to do so would be to actually do something with the franchise.
So this kind of expiry date on the Crash Bandicoot trademark is actually good news. Why? Because it means we will see the former mascot and icon returning in some form or the other in the next seven years:
- Activision releases a new Crash Bandicoot game within the next seven years, to continue ownership of the trademark. The flipside is, the game does not have to be a PlayStation exclusive, and it certainly doesn't have to be a platformer. It could be a free to play endless runner on iOS, and it would still count.
- Activision releases a new Crash Bandicoot media property in the next seven years (not a game). This could mean a new comic, cartoon, movie, anything- in all cases, Activision gets to keep the property.
- Activision puts Crash Bandicoot in Skylanders, which effectively gives it a justifiable reason to continue ownership of the trademark, and also brings Crash back in a game closest to his roots- a platformer.
- Activision realizes it can't meaningfully utilize the Crash IP at all, so it just sells it, either to some other company that is more likely to utilize it (or else why would they buy it?) or, as is most probable, to Sony, who are then free to do whatever they want with him and own their own mascot.'
- Activision does nothing- the trademark lapses; Sony, or someone else, files a dispute, to try and wrest control.
In all cases, we are going to see Crash Bandicoot in some form or the other in the next seven years.