Minecraft might still be in development, but that doesn't mean a creative guy like Notch doesn't have time for other projects. A few months ago he and his company Mojang announced their second game, a digital collectible trading card affair called Scrolls. A simple title (perhaps too generic if anything), but it's not the name of an extant game, and it's appropriate given the visual style and card-based gameplay of the game itself.
Bethesda Softworks has become a major player in the games industry over the last decade on the wings of their flagship RPG series, The Elder Scrolls (and more recently, Fallout 3). Each game has its own title, the most famous being Oblivion. The moniker 'The Elder Scrolls' is usually in tiny text on the cover of each game, along with a few other places, and the fifth installment, officially titled The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, is scheduled for release next year.
One game is a Swedish collectible card game by an indie designer, the other a massive cross-platform RPG made by an American company of hundreds.
Are you confused as to which is which?
I'm assuming the answer is no. Apparently, Bethesda's legal department does not have the same expectations of your intelligence. The games are both fantasy-themed, but that's about where the similarities end. Notch tweeted today that he's received a 15-page legal notice from Bethesda informing him that Scrolls infringes on the trademark of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
If Notch is actually forced to change the name on these grounds, the precedent established would be hilarious. No one would be allowed to use any noun that had been included in the title of something else in the same medium! Once somebody uses "street" or "love" in the title of a movie, no more! Imagine how creative people would have to be. The thesaurus would become the most important tool in any creative executive's arsenal. And it would get really old—really fast.
That can't happen. If a court really rules that Scrolls is too similar of a name to The Elder Scrolls for consumers to distinguish, then it has lost its faith in humanity. Fortunately, at this point, all that's happened is a letter being sent, and the firestorm of negative media attention this is leading to should help change the minds of Bethesda's legal team.
Companies large and small going to war over vague patents and trademarks is becoming a horrible blight on all sorts of tech industries. If this case goes Notch's way, hopefully some much-needed publicity will come to the issue and intellectual property law reform will follow.