RIFT’s Starfall Prophecy name change was provoked by a trademark lawsuit

If you were a little bit puzzled by Trion’s announcement this week that it was changing the name of RIFT’s latest expansion from Starfall Prophecy to Prophecy of Ahnket because it had “recently become acquainted” with a children’s charity called Starfall, welp, get in line behind us. It turns out that there’s more to the story.

Massively OP tipster Clowd dug up a lawsuit that sheds light on what happened behind the scenes. A trademark lawsuit – Starfall Education Foundation v. Trion Worlds, Inc. (CN 1:2017cv00650) – was filed in a Colorado district court back in March but was apparently settled out of court at the tail end of April. Connecting the dots, one might assume Trion had been sued over the name and decided to change it as part of the settlement agreement, in a decision that wasn’t quite as amicable as the producer’s letter implied.

We reached out to Trion’s PR yesterday to ask whether it wished to amend its statement about the motivation behind the decision; in particular, we asked whether the trademark was checked prior to Starfall Prophecy’s launch, whether Trion believed it might have prevailed had it not settled, whether the free giveaway of the expansion was part of the settlement or merely a marketing move, and why, if Trion was prepared to change the name, an agreement wasn’t reached prior to the filing of a lawsuit.

“Yep, that was indeed how we became acquainted,” Trion’s Scott Hartsman told us. “Sure, a phone call would have worked too, but they’re good people doing good work and I felt this was the right thing to do. This weekend’s promo was already scheduled – our changing the name just gave it an easy theme. Everyone wins.”

Either way, at least players can rest easy knowing that Trion had a really good reason for changing a live expansion’s name and isn’t just high on poprocks or something. Now, whether you’re worried about the freebie promotion of the expansion — that’s something else entirely.

MMORPG vets will recall a similar type of lawsuit being filed back in the early aughts by Mythic Entertainment, which sued Microsoft over the name of its game Mythica. Mythica was ultimately canceled and the suit was settled, with Microsoft handing over Mythica’s trademark and domains to Mythic.

Source: PACER, Justia. With thanks to Clowd!
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33 Comments on "RIFT’s Starfall Prophecy name change was provoked by a trademark lawsuit"

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vemerce

Granted, I don’t know a whole lot about the legal system when it comes to trademarks… However, I find it incredibly petty that an Education Foundation would sue a video game company because they utilized the word “Starfall” in the name of an expansion. (Not to mention they could have sent a simple cease and desist letter first.) Clearly they are two very different industries. I believe that Trion Worlds could have won if this had become a legal battle, but I also don’t blame them for taking the easy out and renaming the expansion. But at the core of this, I believe it makes Starfall Education Foundation look bad. They wasted $400 filing a lawsuit on something that could have potentially been resolved for free, or even ignored because it wasn’t like they were even in the same industry. I’m surprised K-Mart didn’t sue Wal-Mart for using their “Mart”.

Reader
Kane Hart

If I started playing Rift now what would I need to buy to make the game enjoyable?

Reader
Malcolm Swoboda

Just generally enjoyable? Not touching concepts like endgame?

Nothing.

But there’s a lot that would help.

At first, there’s the minimal ‘Loyalty’ unlock, requiring at least something like a $5 Credit (cash shop currency) purchase, then consuming the Credits, giving you enough Loyalty points to unlock the platinum (main in-game currency) cap, sell on the auction house, and more.

Then there’s the sold ‘souls’ (class skill trees) and the class (‘Primalist’), which are not at all essential but they can be interesting, and they’re compelling to have available at endgame.

There’s various boosters, for experience, level, even gear.

Really the game is just fine to try and if you find yourself playing almost every day, then you can subscribe, which will ease your time and give you the minimal Loyalty unlock.

One can leave it at that (~$5-15), or spend $10s and have a nicer time, or spend $100s and get all the better things, or spend up to $1000s (probably much of that on whatever lockbox is on sale at the time).

I have spent only $100s since launch several years ago, most of that in the first few years.

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Connor

I ran a piece on this lawsuit for my In Plain English column. I have a follow up coming down the line once I get my hands on some documents, but for a company that reports lower annual revenue than a part time job at McDonald’s ($2,500 as of last report) and whose books are in debt as of their previous year’s report, they wasted no sum on bringing on three law firms to back them up for this trademark dispute. There are also five directors all of whom clocked in an average of one hour per week.

In Plain English: KLM Starfall Education Foundation v. Trion Worlds, Inc.

aYates
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aYates

Well, I appreciate the charity of a free expansion, at any rate.
And, I’m a kid at heart, so yeah, it all makes sense!

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Robert Mann

Not only is there dissimilar business, but trademarking a word out of your name and then hitting anything that uses that word is a practice which needs to be rebuked and forced to stop.

Not that this will happen under current political structures.

Trion… well, in this case did what they had to and were as polite as possible about it, rather than attacking a ‘charity’ *They are not very impressive based on the reviews and financial disclosures I can find.*

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Greaterdivinity

Wish they’d have just come out and been honest about it to begin with but you know…Trion : /

Reader
Annoyed badger

dont get into a shitslinging competition with a childrens charity, its never going to look good. Just back away quietly and chalk it up to experience, thats PR you really dont want no matter if you are right or not.

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thickenergy

“Don’t get into a shit-slinging competition with a children’s charity” is right up there with “Never get involved in a land war in Asia”.

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A Dad Supreme

According to that document, it appears that Trion didn’t do a simple patent check, which would have alerted them to the already trademarked name at the U.S. Patent and Trademark office.

Oh Trion. Due diligence is your friend. Please add to Friend’s List.

styopa
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styopa

Except that there is a clear exception in law for dissimilar businesses.
Certainly there’s a dilution argument, but especially in cases where IN FACT there is a prior trademark already extant,

So in this case, there was a commercially published Starfall boardgame in the 1970s.
Starfall the online educational software company started in 2012 I believe.
If Starfall the online educational company wants to get snooty about exclusivity on the name, they’re putting their OWN brand at actual risk. In this case generally they all just settle the hell down, agree to make it clear that they’re different, and go their merry ways.

Likely, this is what Trion was told, but they probably saw the wisdom in NOT fighting a legal battle against a kids’ educational software company on behalf of an expansion that (apparently) wasn’t doing that well anyway.

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Melissa McDonald

It’s way harder to find a band name than to name a video game. I got no sympathy. All the good band names are taken.
But, you can do things like use MMO loots. “Grisly Bat Talon” seems like a good emo/punk kinda band name to me. ;)

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Bryan Turner

It’s pretty sad when you’re company is so weak sauce you get your balls handed back to you by Charity for Kids.

Minimalistway
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Minimalistway

Fighting a charity for kids will never look good, easier to change the name, it’s not a big deal, the game still there.

Reader
Greaterdivinity

Doesn’t remotely appear to be the case. Trion didn’t want to spend the time and money fighting the lawsuit (which they’d likely win), and fighting a kids charity in court isn’t a good look for pretty much any company. So they took the path of least resistance – change the name and be done with the affair.

I’ll bag on Trion all day for being pretty shit lately, but now that there’s proper context to this situation (and not Trion’s overly vague bullshit) this definitely doesn’t seem like anything to bag on them for.

Reader
Scratches

Meh. I used to bag on them for being spineless and having no integrity already. This just adds fuel to that fire.

Idc if it’s a charity… There’s literally zero commercial risk of confusing the two. It’s completely within reason to tell the charity to fuck off, especially since they’re the aggressor here, literally. They jumped right to lawyering up, without even a heads up… Who does that, outside of blatant patent trolls?

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Bruno Brito

Dude, it’s a charity.

Just…why bother? Really?

Reader
Greaterdivinity

1. Fighting legal battles with childrens charity is almost always a losing fight. Even if you’re in the right, the optics are terrible for your company.

2. Why spend the money to fight it? Honestly, this expansions name isn’t worth the legal battle, even if Trion was 100% sure they would win. They’ve got enough problems to deal with right now, and likely enough financial problems, and they don’t need to add yet another one.

Reader
Bryan Turner

Aw come on, you’re ruining the fantasy in my head of Scott Hartsman addressing the board of directors like Dr Evil being told 5 Million Dollars wasn’t going to cut it in this fight!

Reader
Melissa McDonald

how about when the World Wildlife Fund handed Vince MacMahon his jubblies to him?

Reader
Bryan Turner

That was very amusing, granted the WWE wasn’t worth as much money when that happened, perhaps they could have fought that case if it had happened years later.

Reader
Armsbend

Dude. Clowd is a sleuth!

clowd
Reader
clowd

Just to clarify, this was brought to attention on Rift’s forums – http://forums.riftgame.com/general-discussions/general-discussion/495394-official-expansion-free-everyone-weekend-forever-2.html#post5305535 – I just provided the tip to Massively about it.

Reader
Jeremy Barnes

Trademark law is ridiculous. Customer confusion is required for their to be a violation. I don’t think anyone was confusing the Rift’s Expansion with Starfall Education Foundation.

It’s lame that trion rolled over like this and didn’t fight such an abuse of the trademark law.

Reader
Tanek

Well, it could work out for them. Seems to be getting a bigger boost in recognition because of the name change than it may otherwise have had.

I agree on the trademark, though. I mean, there HAVE to be other things called Starfall out there. A quick search does show the nonprofit as one of the most prevalent (at least in Google search results at the moment), but there are also books and other games. Maybe all of those are related to the nonprofit, but how likely is it? And have they all been sued if they aren’t?

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