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Atari v. Williams

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Citation Edit

Atari, Inc. v. Ken Williams dba Online-Systems, 1981 WL 1400, 217 U.S.P.Q. (BNA) 746 (E.D. Cal. Dec. 28, 1981).

Factual Background Edit

Plaintiff, Atari, Inc., manufactured, distributed and sold consoles which used the software for audiovisual computer games manufactured by Defendant, Online Systems. Defendant, Online Systems, manufactures, distributes and sells computer software and among its products includes software for audiovisual games. Online Systems, without admitting copyright infringement, withdrew an opposition to an injunction on its game referred to as “Gobbler” because Online Systems indicated it would not market “Gobbler” in favor of its “Jawbreaker” game.

Atari, through a sub-license with Namco-America, acquired rights under copyright for an audiovisual game entitled “Pac-Man.” The idea of both “Jawbreaker” and “Pac-Man” is basically a maze with a number of small objects (dots or circles) aligned within the maze. An object, appearing to be a mouth, referred to herein as an eater, is guided the maze by a player and appears to eat the small objects. There are also many non-similarities between that which is expressed in “Jawbreaker” and “Pac-Man” such as the shape of the chasers, the colors of the chasers and eaters, the music played in both games, and the shape of the mazes in each game. Atari claims that it will suffer irreparable harm by the sale and marketing of “Jawbreaker” by Online Systems.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

The trial court held that there is nothing protectable under copyright law as to the “Pac-Man” game itself, and the law does not protect the strategy of a player symbol being guided through a maze appearing to gobble up dots in its path while being chased through the maze by several opponents. Further, the unprotectable idea includes the rules, strategy and progress of play of the “Pac-Man” game.

The court also held that there is no similarity between the expression of the two games because the symbols and graphics of the game are such that an ordinary observer would not notice any similarity.

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