The rivalry between music video games is moving to the courts. Japanese game publisher Konami filed suit earlier this week against MTV-owned Harmonix Music Systems, the makers of “Rock Band,” for allegedly violating three patents relating to music games.
In its court filings, Konami included copies of the three patents, issued in 2002 and 2003, that include schematics of guitar and drum video game controllers and language about music-based games. Konami alleges that Harmonix infringed on these patents in a “willful and deliberate manner” and is seeking damages.
The patents in question include U.S. Patent #6,390,923, a dense 23-page document titled “Music playing game apparatus, performance guiding image display method, and readable storage medium storing performance guiding image forming.”
“Konami’s actions are extremely surprising,” an MTV spokesperson said of the suit. “Unfortunately, successful products such as ’Rock Band’ can often become targets for baseless litigation. We have substantial defenses to this claim and intend to vigorously defend it.”
A Konami representative told MTV News that it is the publisher’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.
Konami and Harmonix have worked together in the past. The Massachusetts-based Harmonix developed five versions of Konami’s “Karaoke Revolution” series between 2003 and 2006, a timeframe that overlaps with the release of the first “Guitar Hero” in 2005.
The Japanese publisher has a history with music games, albeit with a lower profile in the U.S. than in its home country. Konami released guitar and drum games in Japan in the late ’90s but had restricted its release of music-based games in the U.S. to the “Karaoke Revolution” and “Dance Dance Revolution” series. That allowed Harmonix-developed “Guitar Hero,” a series now developed and published by Activision, to introduce guitar-based console gaming to American consumers. But in May, Konami announced plans to release the guitar-and-drum-based “Rock Revolution” late in 2008. “Rock Revolution” is set to go head-to-head with the recently announced “Rock Band 2,” as well as “Guitar Hero: World Tour,” the first entry in that series to include drums.
As the popularity of “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” has increased, so have the legal challenges. In March, the Gibson Guitar Company initiated lawsuits claiming infringement of its 1999 patents by the creators of both “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band.” Those lawsuits are still under way.
“Rock Revolution,” “Rock Band 2″ and “Guitar Hero: World Tour” will all be demonstrated to the gaming press next week at the E3 gaming convention in Los Angeles.
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