You may not know AM General, but you know what it does: It makes the Humvee, the iconic vehicle that replaced US military jeeps back in the '80s. Everywhere the US Army goes, it rides in Humvees: In movies, on the television, and of course in videogames, including the Call of Duty series. According to a recently-filed lawsuit, however, Activision never actually had permission to use it.
"Wrongfully leveraging the goodwill and reputation AM General has developed in these marks, Defendants have used and continue to use AM General’s trademarks and trade dress in advertising and promotion of their Call of Duty videogame franchise; have featured and continue to feature AM General’s trademarks and vehicles bearing the distinctive elements of the AM General Trade Dress prominently in their video games; and have caused and continue to cause the manufacture and sale of collateral toys and books to further derive wrongful profits from AM Genera l’s intellectual property and to further promote Defendants’ infringing video games," the suit (available at SDNY Blog) says.
"Defendants’ videogames have been successful but only at the expense of AM General and consumers who are deceived into believing that AM General licenses the games or is somehow connected with or involved in the creation of the games. Defendants have reaped billions of dollars in revenues from their wrongful acts and, in the process, have irreparably harmed AM General by causing significant confusion, expressly misleading the consuming public, and diluting the goodwill and reputation of AM General’s famous marks."
What's interesting is that AM General has licensed the Humvee for use in a number of other well-known shooters, including Humvee Assault (OK, maybe that's not a great example), Delta Force: Black Hawk Down, Operation Flashpoint: Red River, and Homefront, as well as various toys and models. So it's not as if the company is averse to licensing the vehicle. It just hasn't happened with Call of Duty for some reason.
The suit notes that the Humvee has been used extensively in Modern Warfare 1, 2, 3, Remastered, and Mobilized, as well as Black Ops 2, Ghosts, and Heroes. It also includes screen caps of the machine in various CoD games, descriptions of how they're used, excerpts from the official strategy guide that make reference to the vehicle by the Humvee name, and a photo of real-life Humvees with the Black Ops logo painted on them that were used to promote the game.
The suit seeks a permanent injunction against Activision's use of the Humvee and related properties and marks, and of course money: Compensatory, punitive, and enhanced or treble damages, plus attorney's fees, interest, and whatever else the court "deems just and proper." I've reached out to Activision and AM General for more information (including why the suit is only being filed now, a decade after the first Modern Warfare) and will update if I receive a reply.