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A TSR Announces a Star Frontiers Reboot

One of the new TSRs (yes there are now two TSRs!) has announced a reboot of Star Frontiers, the sci-fi game made by the original TSR back in the 1980s. Star Frontiers was a percentile dice roleplaying game set in a galaxy with four races (Human, Dralasite, Vrusk, and Yazirian) which were re-used by WotC in d20 Future in 2004.

Happy to announce that in addition to our flagship new world and game system by James M. Ward & Dinehart, GiantLands, and Justin LaNasa's children's RPG Tales & Tots, our next internal project "Star Frontiers", a reboot of the original, is currently in preproduction and has Larry Elmore attached. Stay tuned for more details!

It appears that one of the new TSRs registered the trademark in April. More if I hear it!

You can currently buy the game from WotC on DriveThruRpg, so I'm not sure how that works. When asked about this on Facebook, one of the TSRs answered:

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Of course, Evil Hat Productions registered the Star Frontiers trademark, too, back in July 2017.


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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Yup, but someone could ask them to corroborate or not TSR's "data". I mean I'm sure they won't answer on the record.
Corroborate what data? TSR hasn't presented any data about Star Frontiers sales figures that I've seen? I think you're the only person I've seen mention Star Frontiers' sales performance! :)
 

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Trademarks have to be maintained every 10 years through a filing. Continued use by itself isn't enough. If WotC failed to file that document, the trademark could have expired and now be up for grabs.
Registration is not required for Trademarks, just established use and defense.
If fact, in the US, prior use of the registration is required before the trademark is enforceable. If not used, it's marked abandoned.

 


darjr

I crit!
wait... so you can own the trademark without the registration.

It just makes it harder to defend, in court.

 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Registration is not required for Trademarks, just established use and defense.
If fact, in the US, prior use of the registration is required before the trademark is enforceable. If not used, it's marked abandoned.

Simple use is not enough. They also have to file a renewal that shows that you are using it. Without that renewal, you can lose it even if you are actively using it. It looks like WotC failed to renew and it was up for grabs.
 

darjr

I crit!
Simple use is not enough. They also have to file a renewal that shows that you are using it. Without that renewal, you can lose it even if you are actively using it. It looks like WotC failed to renew and it was up for grabs.
Except you can still take them to court regardless of the registration to sue them for ownership. I think.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Except you can still take them to court regardless of the registration to sue them for ownership. I think.
That may not apply, though. That article was about unregistered trademarks, not registered trademarks that were not maintained. I'm not a lawyer and have no idea. It looks like the last time the Star Frontiers trademark was renewed was in 1994, since it supposedly expired in 2004 and went up for grabs. It has since been trademarked again and abandoned, and then trademarked this most recent time by TSR. WotC would have a hard time arguing that they were just late in filing the renewal. It has been 27 years.
 

darjr

I crit!
Could be. I don’t know for sure either. But it does seem to me the key in any suit would be that it was being used actively, even while unregistered, by one party and not the other.

I’ll just concede with a “we might find out”
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Could be. I don’t know for sure either. But it does seem to me the key in any suit would be that it was being used actively, even while unregistered, by one party and not the other.

I’ll just concede with a “we might find out”
Yeah. Another thing to consider is that even if it has been used actively, it has been used actively in electronic PDF format. The statute above regarding unregistered trademarks talked about being able to defend the trademark in the local markets where it is being used. The Web commerce laws have been getting better, but are still pretty full of holes. What is the local market for internet sales? Does the law cover that?
 

Except you can still take them to court regardless of the registration to sue them for ownership. I think.
It's been done successfully a number of times, just not for RPGs. Hell, registering it while the product it applies to is still in print has been grounds for revocation of the registration in the past.

Other countries may protect differently, but are irrelevant since all the rights are US registrations under US law by US corporations, represented by US attorneys.

Note that the 2018 abandonment was due to Wizards reissuing the Star Frontiers game, and Evil Hat's attorney apparently advised them not to proceed. Even if it were to be a meritless case, HasBro can afford to bury Evil Hat in motions into bankruptcy as a line item writeoff expense. That was 2018.

There's an old proverb I have heard in 4 langauges, and remember in 1: Nothing good comes from poking a bear. (I've heard it in Russian, Ukranian, and Yupiq as well.)

Ernie et al are poking hasbro. In a place that has been poked before, recently.
 

Yeah. Another thing to consider is that even if it has been used actively, it has been used actively in electronic PDF format. The statute above regarding unregistered trademarks talked about being able to defend the trademark in the local markets where it is being used. The Web commerce laws have been getting better, but are still pretty full of holes. What is the local market for internet sales? Does the law cover that?
It's available in PoD and has been since the pdfs were removed from Paul's site and wizards put their scans up,.
 


DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
Didn't they bring Yazirians over, with a different name, into 3E's Stormwrack?

It appears that they were called the Hadozee there, but they clearly look like Yazirians.

The hadozee originally appeared in the Spelljammer campaign setting as a monster, and as a PC race in The Complete Spacefarer's Handbook. I've noticed the resemblance before, too, and I've always wondered if it was intentional... but if it was intentional, why did they change the name? If it wasn't intentional, it's a hell of a coincidence.
 



pemerton

Legend
Wait? So who has the trademark?
A search of the US trademark registry indicates that the new TSR has registered "Star Frontiers".

A search of DriveThruRPG indicates that WotC is trading using "Star Frontiers" as a distinctive sign for their roleplaying game of space operatic hijinks.

So we have two concurrent users, one registered and one not. (Though it's not 100% clear to me what the new TSR's actual use consists in.)

As I posted upthread, (i) I don't know what the legal answer is here, but (ii) the normal effect of this sort of registration is to give priority in a contest, so I doubt that WotC can dispute new TSR's use of "Star Frontiers" as a distinctive sign for their roleplaying game of space operatic hijinks. EDIT: Having read your linked article on unregistered trademarks, maybe I'm wrong at (ii). It may be if WotC can prove their use - which would date back at least to when they offered Star Frontiers for sale on DriveThruRPG - then they can contest new TSR's use.

What I'm (even) less sure about is the implications of the registration for WotC. My gut feeling is that there are none, beyond not being able to dispute new TSR's use. And this gut feeling is reinforced by reading your linked article.

wait... so you can own the trademark without the registration.

It just makes it harder to defend, in court.

Generally in common law countries trademarks don't need to be registered to be owned. But registration proves ownership of the mark. It probably also affects how liability for infringement is established, but I'm not sure.

Isn't PoD still an internet sale? I think the local markets talked about in that statute are physical presences, like in game stores.
I don't think that's right. It's about the need to prove the distinctive character of the trademark in trade in a particular geographic region. The fact that you're trading online doesn't stop you proving that. Whether it makes it easier or harder seems to me a question of fact depending on how many customers you have and where they are encountering your mark and purchasing your marked products.
 

pemerton

Legend
Reading the transcript on the other thread, it seems clear there's no licence. So this will be a new game with new fiction being sold (perhaps - see my previous post) under the name Star Frontiers.

The puzzle not yet solved in my mind is how new TSR is registering, as trademarks, logos/images in respect of which WotC surely holds the copyright.
 

Reading the transcript on the other thread, it seems clear there's no licence. So this will be a new game with new fiction being sold (perhaps - see my previous post) under the name Star Frontiers.

The puzzle not yet solved in my mind is how new TSR is registering, as trademarks, logos/images in respect of which WotC surely holds the copyright.
Flirting with legal disaster is how.

Note that WotC's "recent" use predates the registration by new TSR aka Ernie Gygax et al, as well as continuing after. If they fail to defend it, it'll be voided, and if they try to enforce it on Wizards, they get buried in paper... and probably wind up bankrupt.

Moreover, their use of the old logos is clearly to create brand confusion with a brand that belongs to WotC.

And, as far as I can tell, for federal law there's no tangible format requirement; electronic publication counts as publication. (The requirement is "fixed format" - which can include electronic recordings, manuscripts, graven images in stone or wood...) That it's up for sale counts as in use.

Ironically, since Paul was licensed, Paul's Star Frontiers site probably also counts as continued use... (Paul's site also taught me I'm about the only one around who wanted the KH rules updated to work with the Zebs Guide table.)
 

GreyLord

Hero
Flirting with legal disaster is how.

Note that WotC's "recent" use predates the registration by new TSR aka Ernie Gygax et al, as well as continuing after. If they fail to defend it, it'll be voided, and if they try to enforce it on Wizards, they get buried in paper... and probably wind up bankrupt.

Moreover, their use of the old logos is clearly to create brand confusion with a brand that belongs to WotC.

And, as far as I can tell, for federal law there's no tangible format requirement; electronic publication counts as publication. (The requirement is "fixed format" - which can include electronic recordings, manuscripts, graven images in stone or wood...) That it's up for sale counts as in use.

Ironically, since Paul was licensed, Paul's Star Frontiers site probably also counts as continued use... (Paul's site also taught me I'm about the only one around who wanted the KH rules updated to work with the Zebs Guide table.)

I would like to add as well...Star Frontiers (WotC) is actualy IN PRINT. It is available in electronic format, it is also available for those who want a printed copy.

Just adding that.
 

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