Simulated guitar? Gibson gets carried away, but the law wins. Photo/bento creation (CC) Sakurako Kitsa.(Yup, this is a Fender Strat, but this is my kind of simulation of a musical instrument – in cheese form!)

Gibson, the guitar company, has been on an utterly absurd campaign against music games, bringing lawsuits against the developers of both Guitar Hero and Rock Band and even against retailers. In the latest illustration of how screwed up patent law is, and just how over-litigious it has made technology in this country, the patent was based on a Gibson patent for a “System and method for generating and controlling a simulated musical concert experience.” Never mind that Gibson’s patent looks nothing like Guitar Hero, or that if interpreted that loosely, Gibson could theoretically sue any music software maker.

See my previous break-down of the patent and the twisted logic of the case:
Gibson Guitar to Guitar Hero Maker: We Own All Digital Musical Reality

And following development:
Gibson Guitar Loses Mind, Sues Entire Planet

Our friend Nilay Patel gets the scoop at Engadget that Gibson has lost its Guitar Hero case in California US District Court. Engadget also has a PDF of the decision:

Gibson loses Guitar Hero patent lawsuit, gets booed off stage

You can read juicy bits in the final ruling (PDF):

  • Gibson’s own counsel withdrew from the case after the guitar maker refused their request for information. That’s right: Gibson wasn’t cooperating with their own lawyers. (Gibson later was represented by different counsel.)
  • Gibson’s own corporate general counsel didn’t respond to requests from the court.
  • Gibson started trying to force third-party Activision system providers to provide short-notice depositions, much to the dismay of the court and ACtivision, given Gibson’s own lack of cooperation.
  • Gibson tried to use a YouTube video of a Guitar Hero hacker on the record, which the court found irrelevant (and, I think, laughable.)
  • Gibson variously tried, unsuccessfully, legal gymnastics by which it could redefine musical instruments to enforce its ultimately irrelevant patent.

It’s also fun reading lawyers try to define what a musical instrument is in the context of this case. Ultimately, the determining factor in this case appears to be whether the musical instrument itself produces some kind of audio signal, not control signal. Yep, that’s right: it sounds like Gibson lost out because the Guitar Hero controller was defined as a controller but not an instrument. The court decision, showing unusual technical savvy, notes that the “Musical Instrument Digital Interface” (which they incorrectly call “device interface”) has been used for non-musical purposes, despite its name. In a fit of extreme hubris, Gibson at one point seems to have claimed ownership of MIDI for guitar controllers, despite prior art.

I’m certainly not qualified to interpret the judgment, but we can say this: Gibson lost. And they lost on almost every single point, from apparently abusing the court process to losing just about every detail they tried to prove. The court even says the Gibson arguments “border on the frivolous.”

The extent of their loss says to me the other cases have about a snowball’s chance, which raises the question of what Gibson was trying to accomplish in the first place. You have to wonder if they hoped intimidating legal action could help them win contract terms. But it’s nice to see the law win out — and raises hopes that, in the long run, legal remedies could eventually fix frivolous abuses of the patent system.

Oh, yeah – and we can all be relieved that Gibson neither owns the idea of making things look like guitars, nor musical simulation. Phew.