Pinkerton Duels with Wild West Video Game Maker in Trademark Infringement Lawsuit

In an unlikely matchup, a new trademark infringement lawsuit pits a 165-year-old brand against the maker of one of the hottest video games on the market. The case shines a spotlight on two key issues: the duration of trademark rights and the notion that infringement claims require “trademark use.”

In less than three months, Red Dead Redemption 2 became the highest selling video game of 2018. Set in the 1800’s U.S. Wild West, Red Dead 2 is as much a film (with a main storyline that unfolds over more than 60 hours) as it is an interactive action-adventure game with over a hundred “missions” for the player to navigate the story. It was released to universal acclaim and several “perfect” scores from leading critics, due in large part to the game developers’ creation of an immersive and complex environment with a relentless commitment to historical accuracy and detail. Red Dead 2‘s developers, Take-Two Interactive Software and Rockstar Games, spent over seven years with the efforts of more than 2,000 people to create a game with more than 500,000 lines of dialog and 300,000 animations.  

Red Dead 2 is widely celebrated for its realism and historical accuracy. The Guardian noted that the developers aim to provide players with a wild west fantasy so authentic that “you can forget it is not real.” Other historically and geographically accurate details (including flora and fauna, music, technology, and wildlife) contribute to the game’s believable and authentic experience. Even the birds are location-appropriate and sing with accurate pitch. Such commitment to realism has garnered attention from unlikely sources: the Audubon Society praised the game’s inclusion of 200 distinct, interactive species of animals and 40 different plant species.

In one of the 100+ “missions” throughout Red Dead 2‘s story, fact meets fiction when the game’s protagonists rob a train. The owner of the train hires Pinkerton security agents to find the culprits. In a cinematic cut-scene, two men introduce themselves to the main character as agents of the “Pinkerton Detective Agency, seconded to the United States government,” and tell him he’s a “wanted man” with a bounty on his head. The detectives are dressed in bowler hats, red vests, ties, and grey coats – apparel typical of the real Pinkerton detectives. They also wear silver shield-shaped badges on their chest, and at times, the “Pinkerton” name can be seen. It is the same badge that the Pinkerton National Detective Agency used from 1850 to 1925. The Pinkerton detectives make appearances in ten of the 100+ game missions.  (more…)