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Gibson encores patent suit to Rock Band

Instrument maker's quest to have Activision's Guitar Hero pulled from store shelves extended to include EA, MTV, and Harmonix's latest four-piece rhythm game.


Although Harmonix moved on from the Guitar Hero series after wrapping development on Rocks the 80s, Gibson Guitar Inc. hasn't forgotten the developer's involvement in putting the rhythm genre on the map. In the latest twist in Gibson's ongoing patent spat with the billion-dollar rhythm game genre, the guitar manufacturer has filed a patent-infringement suit against Guitar Hero and Rock Band creators Harmonix and its publishing partners Electronic Arts and MTV Networks.

Thursday's filing is the latest development in Gibson's quest to continue to cash in on the burgeoning rhythm game genre. In January, Gibson notified Activision that the Guitar Hero franchise was in violation of a patent the guitar manufacturer filed in 1999. Reminiscent of virtual-reality setups as envisioned in the '90s, Gibson's patent calls for a "head-mounted 3D display that includes stereo speakers" by which musicians can simulate a concert using an instrument. As per the patent, the prerecorded concert would play while musicians accompany the concert on their own instruments.

Following Gibson's request for Activision to either license the device or cease sales of Guitar Hero products, Activision filed suit with the US District Court of Central California to invalidate Gibson's patent and prevent the guitar maker from seeking damages. As grounds for its suit, Activision claimed that Gibson's suit was motivated by the publisher cutting its marketing and support agreement, and also noted that Gibson's three-year delay in not pursuing the patent has granted Activision an implied license. Gibson responded to the suit last week by attempting to force the publisher's hand, taking to court many retailers who sell Guitar Hero products in an attempt to yank the game off of store shelves.

Gibson has yet to file any formal complaint against Activision, a spokesperson representing the publisher confirmed for GameSpot.

Gibson isn't waiting to drop the gloves with Activision's former partner on Guitar Hero, given that the guitar maker challenged EA, MTV, and Harmonix on Thursday in the US District Court of Middle Tennessee over the Guitar Hero franchise through Rocks the 80s, as well as Rock Band. According to the suit, Harmonix and its distribution partners are infringing on Gibson's aforementioned patent, and the guitar maker is seeking an injunction that would halt the sale of the Harmonix-created products as well as award damages and legal expenses.

In a statement addressing the suit, Gibson said, "This new lawsuit relates to the same US patent involved in the lawsuit filed by Gibson Guitar recently against various retailers in the same court. Gibson Guitar had made good faith efforts to enter into a patent license agreement with the defendants in this case. The defendants have not responded in a timely manner with an intent to enter into negotiations for a patent license agreement. Gibson Guitar had no alternative but to bring the suit, and it will continue to protect its intellectual property rights against any and all infringing persons."

EA, MTV, and Harmonix were quick to respond to the allegations. "This lawsuit is completely without merit and we intend to defend [against] it vigorously," said a Harmonix spokesperon in a statement. "Gibson's patent, filed nearly 10 years ago, required a 3D display, a real musical instrument, and a recording of a concert. Rock Band and Guitar Hero are completely different: among other things they are games, require no headset, and use a controller only shaped like a real instrument. It is unfortunate that Gibson unfairly desires to share in the tremendous success enjoyed by the developers of Rock Band and Guitar Hero."

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