Court tosses Gibson's Guitar Hero suit

Iconic guitar maker had sued video game maker, saying Activision infringed on a patent covering technology to simulate a musical performance.

A California court has tossed out Gibson Guitar's patent infringement lawsuit against Guitar Hero maker Activision, saying Gibson's arguments "border on the frivolous."

The iconic guitar manufacturer filed suit in March 2008, charging that Guitar Hero's mock guitars infringed on a 1999 patent, U.S. Patent No. 5,990,405 (PDF).

Guitar Hero image
Activision

That patent, also known as "The '405 Patent," covers "a system and method for generating and controlling a simulated musical concert experience." Specifically, it details a head-mounted display that includes stereo speakers and is worn while playing an instrument along with a simulated concert.

Earlier that same month, in a series of legal volleys preceding the suit, Gibson filed for declaratory relief--asking for compensation, in other words. But Activision decided it didn't need a license under Gibson's patent and said so in a legal countermeasure. Then came Gibson's suit.

In last week's ruling (PDF), a U.S. District Court basically decided that Gibson's patent only applies to devices that output an analog signal. "As a general observation, no reasonable person of ordinary skill in the relevant arts would interpret the '405 Patent as covering interactive video games," the ruling stated.

The court added that Gibson's interpretation of its patent could be extended to cover things from a "button of a DVD remote...to a pencil tapping a table."

But Activision isn't Gibson's only target. It sued major retailers--including Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, and K-Mart--that sell games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Plus, it added MTV, Harmonix, and Electronic Arts to its list of plaintiffs. MTV, which acquired Guitar Hero developer Harmonix in 2006, uses EA as the distributor for Rock Band and is likely turning up the celebratory tunes following the Activision ruling.

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