Games firm boss in legal battle with ‘bullying’ Warner Bros over business name

A ONE-MAN video games company based in Edinburgh has triumphed over one of the world’s largest entertainment corporations in a David-versus-Goliath battle for trademark rights.

Kirk Johnston said his life had been made a misery by the “bullying” and “intimidating” actions of US giant Warner Bros after he registered his firm, iNCEPTIONAL, two years ago.

The 36-year-old, previously a games designer for Grand Theft Auto producer, Rockstar North, said he believed his company’s name was unique but was stunned when he was contacted by Warner Bros’ lawyers, who demanded he withdraw the registration and 
re-brand his firm.

Mr Johnston said the demand came over an allegation of “passing off”, with Warner Bros insisting the similarity between iNCEPTIONAL and Inception – its 2010 sci-fi action thriller starring Leonardo Di Caprio – was evidence the Edinburgh developer was piggybacking on the film’s global popularity and that damage could be done to the company’s international reputation.

Mr Johnston, who runs iNCEPTIONAL from his home near Ocean Terminal, said he had to fight every inch of the way, and without legal help, before Warner Bros eventually backed down in September and settled in his favour.

He said: “In the early stages their lawyers sent through a big box with six ring-binders full of documents and supposed evidence, which was to make me panic and intimidate me. A lot of my friends just told me to give up.

“I was pale, and feeling down and ill quite a lot during that time - the claim was something I was worrying about constantly. But something inside me told me I was in the right and that kept me going.

“Unless the law itself was actually corrupt, I thought, I knew there was no reason I would not win against them.”

Mr Johnston said iNCEPTIONAL occurred to him in 2005 during online research for a name for his new firm. He insisted he did not begin using it in the public domain until 2007 – two years before Warner Bros began promoting Inception.

He said: “Giving up my company name, dropping the trademark application, removing all the sites or accounts that use the name and even being told to destroy all letterheads and documents that have the name on them, might seem trivial to a global giant like Warner Bros but that would have been a massive blow and setback to a small, one-man indie developer like me.

“As the negotiation progressed, Warner Bros seemed to be less and less bullish but I went through two years to get back to what I was saying on day one – that iNCEPTIONAL had nothing to do with their film.”

Mr Johnston said he did not plan to pursue Warner Bros for financial compensation and wanted to press ahead with iNCEPTIONAL’s new game – a one-touch puzzle adventure called Save Santi, in which players save Christmas by collecting presents and letters dropped by Santi Claus after he is attacked by the evil Anti Claus.

Warner Bros bosses said the action against Mr Johnston was pursued to defend the company’s intellectual property.

A company spokeswoman said: “It is because Warner Bros highly values and protects its intellectual property rights that we pursued this matter through the standard trademark opposition procedures. Subsequently, Warner Bros and Mr Johnston reached a settlement.”

Crazy world of copyright infringement

COPYRIGHT and trademark infringements emerge in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

In Edinburgh, a pub was ordered by BSkyB to stop “illegally” screening football matches after installing an Arab Radio and Television satellite system.

The Maltings owner Stephen Blewit, who paid £1500 for the system, was stunned when told he could face legal action as Sky owned the rights to the games in the UK.

Further afield, Cecilia Gimenez, 80, made headlines when she disfigured a church painting in Spain after attempting to restore the work, which depicts Christ before crucifixion. But lawyers acting for the pensioner said they would investigate copyright breaches after the image appeared on T-shirts, cellphone covers and mugs.