UPDATE 1-Activision's 'Guitar Hero' violates patent-Gibson

Wed Mar 12, 2008 4:29pm EDT

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(Adds details of lawsuit, Gibson's claims, company comment, background)

By Scott Hillis and Gina Keating

SAN FRANCISCO/LOS ANGELES, March 12 (Reuters) - Gibson Guitar Inc has told Activision Inc (ATVI.O) that its wildly popular "Guitar Hero" video games infringe one of Gibson's patents, and Activision has asked a U.S. court to find the claim invalid.

Gibson said the games, in which players press buttons on a guitar-shaped controller in time with notes on a TV screen, violates a 1999 patent for technology to simulate a musical performance.

On Tuesday, Activision filed a lawsuit asking the U.S. District Court for Central California to declare Gibson's patent invalid and to bar it from seeking damages.

Gibson made its claims in a letter sent to Activision in January, a copy of which was included in Activision's lawsuit.

Activision shares closed down 1.14 percent at $26.82 on Nasdaq on Wednesday.

The "Guitar Hero" series has sold more than 14 million units in North America and raked in more than $1 billion since its 2005 debut.

Gibson, whose electric guitars are used by legendary blues and rock artists such as Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Slash, has been a high-profile partner in the "Guitar Hero" games, with Activision licensing the rights to model its controllers on Gibson guitar models and to use their likenesses in the game.

"Gibson is a good partner, and we have a great deal of respect for them. We disagree with the applicability of their patent and would like a legal determination on this," Activision general counsel George Rose said in a statement.

Gibson could not be reached for comment.

A copy of Gibson's patent included in the court filing showed a method for simulating a live performance using a musical instrument, a 3D headset with stereo speakers, and a pre-recorded concert.

"Based on our preliminary analysis, the 'Guitar Hero' software (including any expansion packs) and the guitar controller provided by Activision being used as a musical instrument (packaged with the software or sold standalone) are covered by the ... patent," Gibson's law firm said in its Jan. 7 letter. "Gibson requests that Activision obtain a license under Gibson's ... patent or halt sales of any version of the 'Guitar Hero' game software."

Activision said its games did not infringe Gibson's patent, and that by waiting three years to raise its claim, the guitar maker had granted an implied license for any technology. (Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Toni Reinhold)

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