In an uncommon turf battle, computer game producer Interplay Productions Inc. has obtained a temporary court order forcing a tiny Minnesota software company to recall a product that closely resembles one of Interplay's most popular game titles.
The restraining order is scheduled to be reviewed during a hearing Monday at U.S. District Court in Santa Ana. The order stems from a civil suit filed Sept. 21 by Interplay against LaserSoft Inc., a small software company in Eden Prairie, Minn.
For about a month, LaserSoft has been selling a product that adds new "levels" of competition to Interplay's "Descent" game, a spaceship simulation game that has sold more than 300,000 copies since it was introduced in May.
The suit alleges that LaserSoft has intentionally confused consumers and violated trademark laws by calling its software "Dimensions for Descent" and packaging it in a box that looks almost identical to the one designed by Interplay.
Piracy troubles, which center on the illegal duplication of games, are fairly common in the business. But industry attorneys said squabbles involving the production and sale of add-on products through mainstream retail channels are uncommon.
Fifteen copies of the "Dimensions for Descent" product were in stock Thursday at a ComputerCity store in Santa Ana, priced at about $13 apiece. The original "Descent" game costs about $30, a store employee said.
Industry experts said the trademark suit seems to be aimed at slowing LaserSoft until Interplay officially copyrights its game and, thus, gains the legal footing to try to halt production of "Dimensions for Descent" altogether. Interplay's suit, so far, is based on allegations of trademark infringement that center on the design of LaserSoft's package.
LaserSoft officials said they have recalled their product and hope to end the restraining order by introducing a new box design in court on Monday. Further, they argued, their product is simply an add-on program that does not compete with the original game.
"You have to purchase their product before you can use ours," said Scott Addyman, owner of LaserSoft. He declined to say how many copies of his program have been sold. "Our product in no way competes with theirs. We didn't intentionally go out to harm Interplay."
Addyman acknowledged that LaserSoft had not obtained permission from Interplay to make a product based on the "Descent" game, but he said his company had called Interplay to let officials there know that the product was being developed.
Interplay, which plans to release a sequel to "Descent" next month, called LaserSoft's product a direct threat. "Every sale of 'Dimensions for Descent' is likely a lost sale of Interplay's upcoming sequel," Interplay said in the suit.
Jeffrey Kingston, a San Francisco attorney representing Interplay, declined to discuss specifics of the case, but he scoffed at LaserSoft's claim that its product poses no threat, calling the argument "a straw man."