Video Game Law Blog

January 01, 1995

(This is an archived case summary)

NTN developed an interactive game played in conjunction with televised football called "QB1", which it licensed to Interactive to sell together with an instruction manual produced by Interactive. Several years later, Interactive developed its own interactive football game called "IN The Huddle". Interactive filed for a declaratory judgement that "IN The Huddle" did not infringe NTN's intellectual property rights in QB1. NTN counterclaimed for copyright and trade-dress infringement as well as unfair competition. The suit proceeded by way of summary judgment.

On the issue of copyright infringement, the court broke the games down into a variety of component parts.  The court found that play-prediction was an essential aspect of an interactive football game, and therefore found that Interactive had not infringed NTN's copyright in the play-prediction element of the game, because that was not a "protectable expression" in the first place. With respect to other elements of QB1, such as "clutch picks" and "consecutive bonuses", the court held that these were not essential elements of the work.  The court therefore denied Interactive's summary judgement motion.

The court also held that NTN's scoring system was a protectable expression.  However, NTN failed to provide sufficient evidence with respect to the data feed structure and various animation screens, and as such, summary judgement of non-infringement was awarded to Interactive. 

On the issue of trade-dress infringement, the court stated that protection of trade-dress is only available where the features of the product are non-functional. Functional features are those that provide a benefit to the consumer, as opposed to being a reference to the source of the product. The court held that the majority of the features of QB1 were purely functional and were thus not protected. In addition, the court held that NTN did not hold trade-dress rights in the instruction manual for the game because Interactive was the author of the manual.

Finally, the court could not make a determination on the issue of unfair competition because a genuine issue of fact existed which was not appropriate for summary judgment.

Interactive Network v. NTN Communications
1995, US Dist. Ct., ND Cal.
875 F. Supp. 1398
Kewords: trademarks – copyright -
Summary by Chris Metcalfe