Sega of America has filed a patent infringement suit against an entertainment division of Fox, Fox Interactive, Electronic Arts and game developer Radical Entertainment alleging that The Simpsons Road Rage, released in late 2001 and nowadays a million-selling title, is a deliberate imitation of arcade favourite Crazy Taxi.
The suit, filed in San Francisco federal court, names Fox Filmed Entertainment, Fox Interactive (a former Fox unit which is now controlled by VU Games), Road Rage publisher Electronic Arts and developer Radical Entertainment as defendants. Ironically, Radical went on to work for VU Games as developer of The Simpsons Hit & Run, another game which critics felt "borrowed heavily" from existing genre titles.
According to court documents, Sega is alleging that Simpsons Road Rage was designed to "deliberately copy and imitate", citing several reviews. Sega, it seems, holds a patent on the style of gameplay in Crazy Taxi, in which players take the role of a goofy taxi driver to deliver various folks to their destinations as quickly and smoothly (but usually destructively) as possible. Sega believes they are fully entitled to a cut of the game's earnings, and they want it off the shelves, too.
Virtually nobody connected with the case was prepared to comment on Thursday when the suit was first reported on Reuters, but it will definitely be an interesting one to watch, because we'll happily bet there are more than a few developers and publishers out there eager to safeguard their own creative formulas. In fact, so concerned were Nintendo earlier this year that the innovative Mario 128 might be copied, that they actually held it back from E3 in order to protect its ideas.
On the other side of the coin though, the suit could be very damaging for a lot of publishers and developers in an industry where imitation is often the only way to guarantee sales. A result in Sega's favour would certainly lessen the likelihood of any more uninspired Simpsons games turning up - given that Simpsons Skateboarding was a Tony Hawk clone, Road Rage was allegedly a Crazy Taxi rip-off and Hit & Run made liberal use of Rockstar North's Grand Theft Auto for inspiration. As long as their are patents to back things up, it seems, there's the potential to press the case. Whether that applies in any other areas is something we'll presumably learn if the litigation goes Sega's way...