Last week, Wizards of the Coast shook its legal finger at Hex: Shards of Fate, an upcoming MMO trading card game that raked in $US2.27 million in funding on Kickstarter. WotC alleges that the game is a "misappropriation of [its] intellectual property" and is proceeding with a lawsuit against the developer, Cryptozoic. If you're wondering just how much Hex has in common with Magic: The Gathering, it might help to hear it from someone who's not just a fan, but a lawyer.
Douglas Linn of Quiet Speculation, a site aimed at teaching players to profit from card trading, has written a great piece covering the ins and outs of WotC's lawsuit against Cryptozoic.
Linn, who runs his own law practice, steps through the original complaint and highlights a number of weaknesses. For example:
The complaint goes on: "Cryptozoic copied the physical layout and ornamental aspects of Magic cards." Hex may not have copied it –- they may be paying tribute or building on it. This is what we call a "question for the jury." Did Unreal appropriate Wolfenstein's first-person shooter model? The legal phrase is "derivative work" and that means that the piece borrows substantially from a copyrighted work.
It may or may not be protected -– the piece has to show substantial originality. Hex's cards look more like a "tribute" to me than a blatant copy. They have the same elements, but they are arranged differently.
Where Linn believes WotC may have something is the "tapping" mechanic, which Magic's creator, Richard Garfield, filed a patent for in 1995. The patent covers quite a few of the core concepts of trading card games, but even so, Linn states that any patent claim is "beatable". On an interesting note, he also points out the patent expires in June this year.
If you'd like to read the entire piece, head on over to Quiet Speculation.
Understanding the Wizards v. Hex Lawsuit (in plain English) [Quiet Speculation, via RPS]