Trademarking Infocom, again, part one

Monday, July 27, 2020   (updated 1 day later)

Comments: 4   (latest 1 day later)

Tagged: zcode, smartmonsters, muds, zork, infocom, interactive fiction, trademarks, zil, if

It must be a Monday -- someone has trademarked "Infocom"!

No, this doesn't happen every Monday. But over the past twenty years, a surprising number of people have tried to register "Infocom" as a game-related trademark.

The original Infocom company trademarked their name in 1979. Activision purchased the company and the trademark in 1986. But, of course, the Infocom brand didn't last long after that. Activision allowed the trademark to lapse in 2002. (They let "Zork" lapse in 2003. Curiously, they renewed the trademark on "Return to Zork", which remains live today.)

This set off a weird slow-motion frenzy in which some Infocom fan or other would notice the dead trademark and try to do something with it.

  • Oliver Klaeffling filed a registration in 2007. He posted a web page for a game called Triumvirate, apparently a fan-sequel to Trinity. (I wrote about this in 2010.) The game never appeared.

  • Omni Consumer Products also filed a registration in 2007. This is a silly but real company run by Pete Hottelet. It sells real version of fictional products like Fight Club Soap and Stay Puft Marshmallows. Omni held onto the trademark until 2016.

  • Bob Bates, one of the original Infocom folks, filed a registration in 2017. This was shortly after his Thaumistry kickstarter. The game shipped that year, but the trademark registration was not completed.

And now, just a few months ago, a company called SmartMonsters has filed for it.

Interestingly, this registration only covers "online, non-downloadable" videogames. If you look at the SmartMonsters site, you'll see that it runs a set of old-school MUDs. By old-school, I mean they are strongly oriented around RPG-style stats, skills, and XP. This is what all MUDs were like before the "social" TinyMUD/MUSH/MOO tree branched off.

One of their available games is a port of Dungeon. It claims to be "mashed-up from several of the 1980s C ports". It's running in a MUD framework, but it's not multiplayer. It's also pretty alpha; I couldn't manage to take inventory or attack the troll.

The SmartMonsters people are clearly long-time MUD-and-IF folks. Their IF resources page links to IFDB, the forum, and a bunch of classic games (including mine). Their bio page describes co-founder Gary Smith as "...the guy who ported Zork from MDL to C on the PDP."

(I'll note that this is an unrecovered port! All the extant C versions of Zork/Dungeon are translated from Bob Supnik's Fortran version. I dropped SmartMonsters a note asking about it. They say Gary's C port is lost, but he might have a VisualBasic port lying around from the old days...)

I'm pleased to have stumbled across SmartMonsters. But that's not the weird part of this story! There's another company trying to pick up the Infocom trademark right now. I'll post about them tomorrow.

("How do you keep a dornbeast in suspense?")

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