Nothing is as sure to set the internet ablaze as a rumor that a popular game series like Fallout or Half-Life is due to unleash another sequel. Hoping to get the news first, many fans watch trademark databases such as those operated by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), and the United States Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO) looking for clues.
What Is a Trademark?
Trademarks are designed to help people find your product or service and protect your brand. With a trademark, you can prevent people from selling similar items as yours with a similar name or logo. You don’t strictly need one to do this, but it does make it easier in court.
Trademarks exist as long as you use them. You can register it in anticipation of using it soon, but if you don’t use it, you will lose it (and will need to reregister it if you want to keep dibs). However, they cost a lot to register, and can take a long time to apply for. You also need to apply separately for one in each territory. Unlike copyrights, trademarks don’t usually cross borders.
Can a Registration Be Fake?
In recent years, it has become something of a sport amongst certain troll-type persons to create false rumors of games for a burst of short-term attention or as clickbait for news sites. This month’s Fallout: New Orleans rumor, and previously debunked rumors for games such as Half-Life 3, have been based on registrations in the EU trademark database, but none, to our knowledge, have been based on U.S. registrations.
Marks do cost money to register; however, this cost (€850) would be off-putting to fake registrants. As no money has changed hands, the fake registration will never be granted, but it will appear in the database, giving enough fire to start the flames of a rumor.
First, here is the suspect Fallout: New Orleans registration:
And here’s what a verified fake registration looks like:
As you can see, both look very similar. Both are marked for “Fast Track” evaluation. The New Orleans registration has more classifications, but these can be easily matched. Additionally, both do not show any ownership details as these only show after payment of the basic fee.
Telling Fact From Fiction
This isn’t to say you should not trust the EU trademark database. If a registrant has paid for the mark, it is probably safe to trust this database. To tell the difference, head down to the owner section. If you see this:
Treat the registration as fake, at least for now.
A legitimate registration should look like this:
If you’re still not sure, check the USPTO database. A lack of a registration in the U.S. should send alarm bells as the U.S. is a key video games market. The USPTO process is also more complex and requires payment. You may want to check similar databases for Japan, Australia, Canada and other key markets as well.
For a detailed analysis, it’s good to check how this registration compares to other registrations by the same company. For instance, Bethesda’s three most recent Fallout registrations were applied for after the game was announced; the New Orleans registration does not fit this pattern. If a company regularly selects the same product classes, but this registration has some missing, then you should wonder why.