CD Projekt is, generally speaking, about as close as it gets these days to being a studio that can do no wrong. The Witcher series was brilliant, Gwent is coming along swimmingly, everyone's champing at the bit for Cyberpunk 2077, and even though it's one of the biggest companies in Poland, it still manages to come off as a scrappy little guy—cool, even, in a uniquely uncool way. But when it came to light, via Reddit, that it had recently filed for, and been granted, a trademark on the word "Cyberpunk" in the European Union, not everyone was happy about it.
Some people said that the filing looked like an attempt to lay claim to the word "cyberpunk" in its entirety, which would presumably have a powerful chilling effect on other creators: "They appear to have managed to trademark a very generic word used to describe lots of games/things as well as it being well known as a genre," as one said. Others pointed out that CD Projekt has been granted a trademark, not a copyright, and that it is for a brand in a very specific context rather than a generic word.
But the law is complicated, and the competing, confident declarations of right and wrong meant the truth of the situation—whether it represents the limited lock-down of a brand or a sweeping money-grab worthy of a major game publisher—remained hazy. The confusion was enough to spur CD Projekt to try to clear things up in an explanation posted to Twitter.
"Cyberpunk 2077 ... is a massive project and we've already invested a lot of hard work and resources into making it the best game we can. We have to ensure that we will be the only entity that can use its exact name and naming scheme," the studio wrote.
"Life knows quite a few examples of companies registering marks similar to well-known marks, and then trying to sell them for big money. Should we ever decide to create a sequel, there's a possibility of someone telling us we can't name it, say, 'Cyberpunk 2078' or 'Cyberpunk 2.' Moreover, if someone else registers this trademark in the future, they could prohibit CD Projekt from making any expansions to the game, [or] any additional titles under the name 'Cyberpunk.' The reason for our registration is to protect us from unlawful actions of unfair competitors."
CD Projekt briefly made note of the difference between trademarks and copyrights, and said that the existence of the mark will not prevent other people from using the word, as long as its not done "in the course of business"—for branding, advertising, stuff like that—and doesn't refer to the specific goods and services covered in the registration. Neither does it grant the studio any sort of exclusive right to set games in the cyberpunk environment or genre.
"Use of a protected word in a title may be prohibited only if it could confuse the customers. The trademark right cannot prohibit using a word as a descriptive term," it said. "If someone names their game 'John Smith: Adventures in a Cyberpunk Dystopian Society,' or '20 Short Videogames Set in Cyberpunk Worlds,' none of them should be treated as an infringement of our rights. This is because, despite being part of the title, there is no risk that the consumers would associate these games with CD Projekt."
It also pointed out, almost as an aside, that CD Projekt has held registrations for "Cyberpunk" in the US since 2011. "There wasn't and there isn't any evil plan behind that," it said. "If you have any concerns, drop us a line."
Last week, CD Projekt revealed that work on Cyberpunk 2077 is "quite advanced," but warned that the release is still a long way off.
Information about Cyberpunk trademark. pic.twitter.com/4mufRCp9GfApril 6, 2017