October 17, 2017
Innovation is not necessarily a straightforward progression, and when innovation occurs, it does not mean that prior technology is abandoned. Take recorded music for example. With the evolution of recorded audio, technology advanced alongside to account for the changes in the medium. Sure, the majority of the U.S. population is utilizing devices that support only the most relevant digital audio formats, yet there are still inventors out there that are innovating with “obsolete” technologies. Pink Donut, a concept company based out of San Francisco, CA, has even found a way to revolutionize the way you play vinyl records with the RokBlok. But does this happen with other forms of technology? Is this concept something we only see with startups?
Consumers might enjoy the idea of revisiting a time before smartwatches, Google, high definition, interconnectivity, and all of the other futuristic conveniences that we interact with on a daily basis. But sometimes, the consumers find out the hard way that the idea of revisiting retro is better than the reality of pulling out that dusty VCR from the closet. These consumers realize that technology has advanced so far forward, that there is no way to conveniently go back to the good ol’ days. With this in mind, larger companies, not just startups, are now realizing that there is a market in retro.
Nintendo, most known for their impact on the U.S. video game industry back in 1985 with the debut of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), became extremely popular in family households, selling close to 62 million units worldwide. Over 20 years after the discontinuation of the system, Nintendo decided to bring the system back as a “plug and play” system with 30 preloaded games on it. The graphics and games were kept the same, but were scaled up to support modern HD formats. Called the NES Classic Edition, the system was a holiday hit. With the release of the NES Classic Edition, Nintendo registered a trademark for a logo depicting the design of the classic controller.
Not ones to lose momentum upon the success of the “modern retro” console, Nintendo filed another trademark application for a similarly designed mark, but based upon the Super Nintendo Entertainment System’s (SNES) controller, the NES’s successor. This trademark application was filed in December 2016, just one month after the release of the NES Classic Edition’s release. With the trademark filing, many gamers were speculating the eventual release of the SNES Classic Edition, but were kept in the dark until Nintendo officially announced the production of the product in April 2017, with the release set for September 2017. Now the holidays are upon us, and it seems like the system will be fighting as one of 2017’s hottest holiday gifts. The craze around these consoles is still alive and well, with stores selling out of stock within hours of receiving them.
Even with their recent successes of the Switch and Classic Edition systems, the Japanese video game conglomerate is looking forward by “taking things back.” It was reported that Nintendo, again, filed for a trademark with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) for a new logo that depicts the controller design of the Nintendo 64 (N64), the successor to the SNES. Clearly, the N64 controller is illustrated using similar design elements as the logos of the NES and SNES Classic Edition logos. Again, a trademark application such as this leaves fans highly suspect of Nintendo’s intention’s to announce and release an N64 Classic Edition.
While gamers wait patiently to see if Nintendo actually utilizes the mark with a “new” system, the entertainment company decided to double down and filed another trademark on September 15th, 2017. Yet, this trademark was not for a controller logo design, as mentioned in the three previous examples. The trademark was for a logo inspired by Nintendo’s iconic handheld gaming console, the Game Boy. Despite this, the design of the mark does not exhibit characteristics that are similar to the Classic Edition logos. In fact, it is different. Not only does the design set itself apart from its home console counterparts, the goods and services listed on the application also differ slightly. While all of the recent trademark applications for the NES, SNES, N64, and Game Boy logos have mentioned “home video game console” or “programs for smartphones,” the Game Boy filing also includes “key holders,” “necklaces,” and “watches,” among other things.
Needless to say, Nintendo is ensuring that its IP is put to good use, even decades after the technology is considered obsolete. With the Classic Edition consoles, the Japanese game company is once again bringing innovation to the video game industry (although the market has technically seen the product before). As mentioned earlier, innovation does not always exhibit a straightforward progression. Innovation and invention come in all forms, and at any time. Nikola Tesla patented a form of drone technology centuries before it was ever produced or used. Any step towards innovation is a step towards the future, even if it still utilizes “old” technology.
Author: Dan Truong, Legal Assistant & Researcher
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