Having been constantly inundated with request by friends to play Candy Crush Saga on Facebook, I confess to not being a fan of the game. But I write this post as objectively as possible nevertheless. For those who don’t know, Candy Crush Saga is a Facebook Game and mobile phone app that is a version of a game genre called “match-3.” The player is presented with an array of icons (in this game the icons are candy pieces) and the player must find and swipe three identical pieces to eliminate them from the array. The rest of the icons drop down to fill the space left by the removed icons and play continues until the array maxes out of space because you did not eliminate enough icons or did not eliminate them quickly enough. Candy Crush did not invent “match-3” nor in fact was it even the first match-3 to use candy piece as icons.
And there’s the rub. A guy named Albert Ransom invented a match-3 game called Candy Swipe in 2010; two years before Candy Crush came out. In an open letter to Candy Crush, he notes the obvious similarities between the two games images, including the use of the word “sweet!” when a match is made. Here is a graphic he created showing the similarity between the two:
The trouble began when Candy Crush attempted to register its trademark in 2012; Candy Swipe obviously opposed it for “likelihood of confusion” and as it had existed for a full two years before Candy Crush’s existence. It would seem to be a pretty good case for Candy Swipe. Ransom included in his opposition many instances of confusion between the two games. (Ironically, due to the rapid expansion of Candy Crush, most folks thought that Candy Swipe was ripping off Candy Crush instead of the other way around). The trademark battle raged on quietly for about a year.
Then Candy Crush (or more likely their lawyers) came upon a new devilish strategy. They used their huge bank account to purchase the rights to a game called “Candy Crusher” which predates both games. But Candy Crusher is nothing like Candy Crush or Candy Swipe. Instead, King bought the rights to now challenge Candy Swipe and tried to invalidate Candy Swipe’s four year old trademark. That’s a move only a trademark troll could love.
It appears to have worked, however, as John Ransom is I guess tired of the fight and of having his game literally held for ransom. He wrote an open letter to King on his website candyswipe.com proclaiming:
I have spent over three years working on this game as an independent app developer. I learned how to code on my own after my mother passed and CandySwipe was my first and most successful game; it’s my livelihood, and you are now attempting to take that away from me. You have taken away the possibility of CandySwipe blossoming into what it has the potential of becoming. I have been quiet, not to exploit the situation, hoping that both sides could agree on a peaceful resolution. However, your move to buy a trademark for the sole purpose of getting away with infringing on the CandySwipe trademark and goodwill just sickens me.
This also contradicts your recent quote by [your president] in “An open letter on intellectual property” posted on your website which states, “We believe in a thriving game development community, and believe that good game developers – both small and large – have every right to protect the hard work they do and the games they create.” I myself was only trying to protect my hard work.
I wanted to take this moment to write you this letter so that you know who I am. Because I now know exactly what you are. Congratulations on your success!
President (Founder), Runsome Apps Inc.
Candy Crush Saga makes too much money for King to let its valuable franchises lose its trademark and name. So the real Saga of Candy Crush goes like this (1) Develop game very similar to already existing game; (2) Panic when pre-existing game challenges your attempt to trademark the word”candy” and “saga” and “Candy Crush;” (3) Scour the trademark registry to find and buy a game with the words Candy and Crush in it merely to bankroll an attack on the earlier game’s trademark. I hope Mr. Ransom does not give up. In fact, I have emailed him that I would be willing to help him pro bono if the only reason he is giving up is lack of funds. It is loathsome to use intellectual property law to troll valid rights-holders into giving up their hard-earned work. IP laws are to be used as a shield against infringers; they are not to be used as a sword against competitors or to force folks to overpay for minor claims.Yet large companies are doing just that in an effort to monetize small claims and or “crush” a valid competitor. I hope the Trademark Office sees through this strategy but it won’t if Mr. Ransom simply gives up. Here’s hoping he won’t and I’d be glad to help out in any way I can.