Gibson, Activision in legal tussle over Guitar Hero

Video game maker Activision has filed suit against Gibson Guitar, saying a patent held by the guitar manufacturer is invalid. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Central California, focuses on the popular Guitar Hero series of video games.

It’s a bizarre twist to what up until now appeared to be a success story with the two companies. Activision makes one of the hottest video game franchises out there — Guitar Hero. Guitar Hero puts you in the role of a rock and roll band’s guitar player — you pound out notes and chords using a guitar shaped controller configured with buttons that match what’s happening on the screen.

Activision has licensed Gibson guitar designs, logos and other intellectual property for use in its games. The controllers themselves resemble Gibson designs, and the characters in the games can play different Gibson guitar models.

But that’s not the crux of the dispute. According to Activision’s complaint, Gibson claims in a letter sent to them in January that they have a 1999 patent for technology that simulates a musical performance. Guitar Hero games have been shipping for several years, and Activision told the court that because Gibson has waited so long, it’s granted an implied license.

Activision seems as perplexed about this as the average person. In a statement, Activision’s general counsel, George Rose, called the legendary guitar maker “a good partner” and added that Activision has a lot of respect for them.

“We disagree with the applicability of their patent and would like a legal determination on this,” said Rose.

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, is the latest major edition of the game. It’s the first game in the series to make it to the Mac and PC, courtesy of Aspyr Media. The game’s availability isn’t expected to be impacted by this legal issue.

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