Angry Birds Should Start Getting Upset About IP Infringement

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Photo via CNTV

I used a cute photo the other day of mooncakes that had Rovio’s Angry Birds artwork baked onto their tops. If I was advising Rovio on intellectual property issues, I might not necessarily tell them to go after every mooncake company out there. On the other hand, I’ve started to see a lot more infringement in areas other than snacks (let’s stipulate to the software infringement – that’s a given).

Angry Birds toys, clothing, hats and other attire are already well represented. I saw Angry Birds t-shirts a few weeks ago at a local store (sorry, no photo). Because Rovio is a relatively young, and small, company, I would be utterly shocked if any of these products was licensed.

At some point, though, I wonder when Rovio will start taking action. Perhaps once they see this story in China Daily about the Angry Birds attractions at the Changsha Window of the World Park (see above photo):

The realistic version of Angry Birds recently landed on at Window of the World Park in Changsha, Hunan province. Transforming the game from virtual to reality, visitors can launch tangible angry birds into evil green pigs. An industry insider said that the theme park might inspire new marketing strategies for video game developers.

Real slingshots, toy Angry Birds, green pigs — the whole deal. Quite a production. Again, maybe this is licensed activity, but that would surprise me more than seeing green pigs fly. Or laugh. Whatever.

Maybe China Daily is right. Perhaps the Changsha park attraction might inspire new marketing strategies for game companies. One that I can think of right away is called a Cease and Desist Letter. Not exactly marketing, but it can help a developer’s reputation.

On the other hand, maybe this should all be chalked up to brand awareness. After all, maybe those happy park goers will, after enjoying themselves with the slingshots and such, go home and download the game. It’s possible, but once you let the infringement genie out of the bottle, it’s pretty difficult trying to stuff it back in again. Moreover, what happens to your brand once one of those folks in Changsha gets a beak stuck in his eye? That story will not look good on television.

Now, you might be asking what Rovio can do about all this unauthorized activity. There’s a lot of potential trademark and copyright infringement going on out there. However, since I don’t know whether Rovio has registered any “Angry Birds” trademarks in China (given the timeframe, I doubt it), they should focus on copyright.

Rovio is headquartered in Finland, which is a signatory to the Berne Convention. That means that when Rovio “published” the artwork for Angry Birds, it was automatically protected under copyright law. As China is also a signatory to the convention, Rovio can come here and enforce its copyright as well.

Sounds like a good idea, especially since they just came out with a Mid-Autumn Festival update. Something tells me that we’re going to see a lot more Angry Birds products here very soon. They are already working on a line of shoes and will be opening up a Shanghai office.

7 responses on “Angry Birds Should Start Getting Upset About IP Infringement

  1. Andeli

    Well I don’t think they have much of a chance in many of the 类号, still their international trademarks are covered in 类号 9,16,28,41. The rest is up for grabs.

    Accurally a nice company in Nanjing, Zhejiang are trying to get the copyright for Angry Birds in 类号25 and a nice company in Shenyang plus a very nice man named Chen are looking to get 类号25,33,35.

    Lesson learned? Well that a small IT company in Europe is no match for the great trademark scalpers of China.

      1. Andeli

        This is a good study case, because the Rovio Agry Bird brand can be used in so many of the categories. As I was looking into it off the top of my head I would only write off something like Agry Bird Cement as a 类号 not worth going for.

        Computer game creaters and the likes are some of those that lose out on the trademark race here in China, because a China trademark strategy in for companies that have a base in China. One would hope that the Chinese government could look into giving foreign IT- products creaters some help when it comes to trademarks. This can be end up being seen as one more unfriendly move against foreign IT firms.

        1. Stan Post author

          I agree. Potentially, they would need very broad coverage. Problem for other startup game firms is a lack of cash. Broad TM coverage can be expensive.

  2. perspectivehere

    This story illustrates the Entrepreneur’s Credo – Better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.

    See: http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/239670/rovio_teaming_with_disputed_chinese_angry_birds_park.html

    “The game did not receive any authorization from Rovio,” said Daisy Yang, a spokeswoman for the company’s China business. Rovio said it learned of the theme park game from recent media reports.

    But rather than take legal action, Rovio has entered into talks with the theme park about creating a long-term partnership. “We would welcome a partnership, but Rovio would need to give them permission to use the Angry Birds game,” Yang said.

    An employee with the theme park claimed it had already received permission from Rovio’s Chinese representatives, and that the two parties were in discussions about a long-term partnership. The theme park’s Angry Birds game, which will run until the end of the month, was created as a way to help players release stress, he added.

    Partnering with the theme park fits into Rovio’s strategy to not only expand the presence of its Angry Birds game in China, but also sell more merchandise around the game.

    The company has high hopes for the Chinese market, and wants its Angry Birds game to reach 100 million downloads in the country by the end of this year. To this end, it is working to create Chinese versions of Angry Birds, which the company plans to release this month.

    Rovio hopes to eventually turn Angry Birds into an entire entertainment franchise. It has already begun to sell T-shirts, iPhone cases, and Chinese traditional moon cakes, all tied to the Angry Birds game.

    But the company is well aware of rampant piracy and counterfeiting in China. While speaking in Beijing in April, Rovio’s chief marketing officer Peter Vesterbacka said the company took pride in being one of the top three most copied brands in China. Now the company aims to translate that popularity into sales, he added.”

    *************************************************

    Very often we hear that China is not creative. Who cares? In the marketing world, one rarely needs to be all that completely original to be successful. Instead, the recipe for success often starts with taking a product popular elsewhere and giving it a clever twist so it fits a new market and generates profitable revenues. Who needs to reinvent the wheel? Just refit the wheel for Chinese roads.

    One can imagine how it happened: some 90’s generation twenty-somethings sitting around at the Changsha Windows of the World head office brainstorming crowd attractions, and a bored participant playing angry birds on his smartphone under the table gets a stern tongue lash from the manager. Then someone pipes up, hey, what about a live action angry birds?… The room erupts in nods and yeas. A spoilsport says, but we’ll never get authorization. And the manager says, who cares….as Chairman Mao said, “Better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission!” Let’s get to work! Three weeks later, they roll out this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-HvZjcN0sE

    1. Stan Post author

      It certainly was creative, yes. But it was also IP infringement. Call me crazy, but a better solution is going to Rovio with a business plan and waiting until they had received authorization. This story had a happy ending, but I hope it does not encourage other would-be infringers.