Update: Except where indicated otherwise, all facts presented in this article regarding conversations held between Dr. Langdell of Edge Games and Mr. Papazian of Mobigame (including events and timelines concerning the dispute between the two parties) have been taken from email correspondence between Mr. Papazian and Dr. Langdell, provided by Mr. Papazian and Dr. Langdell to The Escapist. – Ed.
Regular readers of this or any of a number of other gaming sites will no doubt be familiar with the name Tim Langdell, the suddenly-infamous founder and CEO of Edge Games. Langdell has taken a beating in the gaming press over the past few months, spawned in no small part by a Gamasutra article first posted in late May that detailed a trademark dispute between Langdell and Mobigame, developer of the hit iPhone game Edge. The article essentially accused Langdell of holding the “Edge” trademark only to blindside anyone, across various forms of media, who happens to use the word.
The word went out and Langdell soon found himself excoriated by gamers and the vast majority of the gaming press over his repugnant behavior. It’s safe to say that forcing the removal of Edge from the App Store over a trademark violation opened a floodgate of anger and ill-will that nobody could have anticipated, but lost in all that self-righteous fire is the fact that Edge Games had not just a legal right but an obligation to demand a halt to the infringement, and that the wronged party in this case might actually be Langdell himself.
Due to the intricacies of trademark law, trademark holders – in this case, Langdell and Edge Games – are obligated to actively defend their trademarks or risk losing them to other parties. Disputes like the one between Edge Games and Mobigame aren’t uncommon, and are usually settled amicably, but in this case the waters have been muddied by accusations of skullduggery on both sides. And considering Mobigame is a French company, Edge Games is based in the US, and the territories both companies are claiming in their dispute are world-wide, the case is tailor-made for confusion.
“Trademark law is enormously complex, especially when dealing with multiple countries as we are in this case,” said Greg Boyd, an IP attorney contacted by The Escapist. The language barrier surely hasn’t helped, as many of the documents sent between the two parties, and forwarded by the parties to The Escapist, are in a mix of English and French.
After careful review of the emails sent to The Escapist by Mr. Papazian and Dr. Langdell, (including emails sent between Mr. Papazian and his attorneys) this much is clear: A few months after the game was launched, Langdell attempted to contact Mobigame to inform the company of its infringement. When those efforts went unanswered, he contacted Apple instead, presenting it with proof of Edge Games’ trademarks. Apple’s decision to sidestep any potential legal entanglements by pulling the game from the iTunes App Store finally got Mobigame’s attention and that’s where the fun begins.
First and foremost, despite Mobigame CEO David Papazian’s assertions as recent as late April that he knew nothing of Langdell’s “Edge” trademark, Mobigame’s own lawyer acknowledges in an email that he was in fact made aware of the trademark at some point in March. Further emails between Papazian and his attorney, sent by Mr. Papazian to The Escapist, confirm that he was aware not only of the existence of the Edge trademarks but also the “serious” risks involved in challenging them, particularly in the U.S. It is unclear from the documents we’ve reviewed, or from Papazian’s statements, what he intended to do about it.
There has been considerable back and forth between the two parties (and in the press) regarding an offer made by Langdell to allow Mobigame to change the title of their game to “Edgy”, which, in the opinion of Boyd, was a “very polite settlement offer … If I were Mobigame’s attorney, I would have advised them to accept it.” Essentially, Langdell offered to allow Mobigame to use the title “Edge” in non-US and UK territories providing Papazian changed the name of his game to “Edgy” in the US and UK.
This was by no means the first response from Langdell to Papazian regarding the situation, nor was it the first resolution he suggested. In fact, according to our research, and verified in emails sent to us by both Mr. Papazian and Dr. Langdell, Langdell at one point had suggested to Papazian that Edge would be seeking monetary damages for the use of the “Edge” trademark prior to their negotiations, but that request was later rescinded.
Papazian has made a great deal in the press regarding this original monetary request, although he himself has played a part in escalating the conflict, at one point by admitting he’d reneged on the agreement to use the “Edgy” name, and by later claiming he’d hidden his intentions from Langdell because of “his company’s history in these matters.” Papazian told Pocketgamer his company may go even further and reject the offer entirely:
“Because of the overwhelming support we have had and the fact that we are increasingly finding that legal position favours our continuing use of the name “EDGE” we have to consider this carefully.”
Viewed from a distance, the entire case seems more or less cut-and-dried: Langdell has a legitimate trademark, he did what was required of him to protect that trademark and he made very reasonable attempts to accommodate a small, independent game studio which ultimately, and rather puzzlingly, rebuffed him despite knowing full well that it was on very shaky legal ground. Yet somehow it got turned around; Langdell, ostensibly the victim, has been utterly vilified by the gaming media.
It’s not difficult to understand why. Langdell does not present a very sympathetic figure; despite his self-aggrandizing claims to fame, nobody seems able to track down any games his company has put out in the past decade or so. When asked directly by The Escapist‘s Editor-in-Chief, Russ Pitts, about Edge Games’ recent track record via email, Dr. Langdell, speaking as CEO of Edge Games replied only that we should “Google Bobby Bearing.”
So we did. A Google search for Bobby Bearing returns numerous results regarding the company’s classic game, which has recently been ported for several different platforms. Although Langdell’s critics may not consider a port of a very old game evidence the company is still making games, the law is quite clear on the matter: The company is producing product, therefore the trademark is sound.
And yet there is a certain dubious quality to the act of trademarking a fairly common word as a brand name. “An issue with Edge as a trademark, even though it is registered, is that it is not as creative as it could be. People can innocently infringe it fairly easily,” says Boyd. “Even if Langdell is acting in good-faith to police his mark, he must know that this will be substantial work every year given the common use of the word.”
But being shifty or dislikable doesn’t negate legal rights and obligations, despite Papazian’s apparent willingness to roll the dice and hope that it might. Knowing that he was at a serious legal disadvantage, he has apparently decided to do all he can to portray Langdell as a dick and a bully, and hope that the court of public opinion will somehow carry the day. The gaming press was, and continues to be, perhaps a little too eager to join in and may yet come out of this mess looking like it chose bandwagon-hopping over actual fact.
As the matter currently stands, Papazian and Mobigame appear emboldened by the wave of negative public opinion that has crashed into Langdell, while Edge Games remains determined to protect its trademark even as it continues to act evasively and lose ground in the public eye as a result. The truth is that bad behavior on both sides has turned what should have been a relatively straightforward copyright dispute into a nasty and very personal mess; unfortunately, the game media was just a little too enthusiastic in getting that ball rolling.
Alexander Macris and Russ Pitts contributed to the reporting on this story.