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Guitar Hero: Gibson Asserts Patent Claims; Viacom’s Harmonix Negotiating Higher Royalties

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As if you needed any more evidence that Guitar Hero had made it big: Guitar company Gibson has accused the game’s maker, Activision (NSDQ: ATVI), of violating a 1999 patent for “technology for simulating a musical performance.” Activision disclosed in a court filing, as part of an attempt to get the patent made invalid, that Gibson made its view known in a January letter, according to Reuters. Gibson wants to enjoin Activision from selling the game, says Bloomberg… but it’s a safe guess that the problem could go away for the right price. An odd aspect of this is that the two companies have partnered in the past on IP issues — trademark Gibson guitars have been featured in the game itself (see here), though that’s obviously separate from a patent issue.

— Here’s the exact description of the relevant patent. You can judge for yourself how close it is to Guitar Hero (try to read it through the eyes of an East Texas juror): “A musician can simulate participation in a concert by playing a musical instrument and wearing a head-mounted 3D display that includes stereo speakers. Audio and video portions of a musical concert are pre-recorded, along with a separate sound track corresponding to the musical instrument played by the musician. Playback of the instrument sound track is controlled by signals generated in the musical instrument and transmitted to a system interface box connected to the audio-video play back device, an audio mixer, and the head-mounted display. An external bypass switch allows the musician to suppress the instrument sound track so that the sounds created by actual playing of the musical instrument are heard along with the pre-recorded audio and video portions.”

— Separately, Activision is negotiating with the original creator of Guitar Hero, Harmonix (since bought by Viacom), about the proper royalty rates to be paid on Guitar Hero III. Harmonix had gone to court seeking higher royalties, but Variety reports that the two sides are now talking. At issue is whether the latest iteration of the popular game builds off of Harmonix’s old work, in which case it would get a full royalty, or whether the new game constitutes a rebuild from scratch, in which case Harmonix only gets half as much. Ultimately, the two sides are arguing over roughly $14.5 million.

4 Responses to “Guitar Hero: Gibson Asserts Patent Claims; Viacom’s Harmonix Negotiating Higher Royalties”

  1. By the sounds of that paitent, there should be no way Gibson could be successful there. Obviously an attempt to take some quick settlement money to save the legal costs of fighting the dispute.

    I can not understand why they would want to soil relationships with Activision when the current success of the game could mean great branding for them with the right set up.

  2. isakill

    What a rip… Seriously the way this reads to me Britiney Spears should be sued by Gibson for her lip syiching performances.

    How can you patent a Live performance either real or virtual. complete and utter nonsense

  3. Mournian

    1. Wow a slur? Being that there was no direct derogatory statement said or even implied, I believe that isnt true.
    2. Gibson wants part of the cash from these games, pure and simple. They cared not about the patent until after Activision Inc. stopped there licensing agreements with them for the guitars and logos in-game. Hopefully this will come to light and appropriate actions will be taken. Shouldnt Gibson have to file in a reasonable amount of time after they uncovered the violation. They had to have know for 3 years considering they have had their products in the game since its release in 2005