Developer Digital Chocolate filed a lawsuit against rival social games studio Zynga for trademark infringement, unfair competition, and other charges concerning the Mafia Wars trademark.
Digital Chocolate says it created a mobile game titled Mafia Wars in 2004, three years before Zynga opened its doors. The firm has since put out three sequels, most recently Mafia Wars New York in April 2009, and claims that more than 2 million consumers worldwide have downloaded games from the series.
Zynga launched its own Mafia Wars game in 2008, making the title available on a variety of platforms, including MySpace, Facebook, and iPhone. Compared to Digital Chocolate's series, Zynga's game is much more popular, bringing in almost 28 million monthly active users on Facebook alone, according to figures from AppData.
Though Digital Chocolate says it sent a notice to Zynga in January 2009 demanding the developer end its use of the name -- and received a response in May 2009 from Zynga admitting it didn't claim trademark rights for Mafia Wars -- Zynga filed an application with the U.S. Patent Trademark Office to register the trademark two months later.
"Despite being on notice of Digital Chocolate's senior rights and infringement claim, Zynga repeatedly misrepresented to the USPTO that no other entity owned or claimed rights in the Mafia Wars mark," alleges Digital Chocolate in its court documents filed with California's Northern District Court and posted by Courthouse News Service.
Digital Chocolate continues, "Through duplicity and bad faith, Zynga has effectively hijacked the Mafia Wars mark from Digital Chocolate and is aggressively marketing its games under the Mafia Wars mark to Digital Chocolate's substantial detriment."
The plaintiff studio goes on to point out additional examples of Zynga allegedly suggesting or outright claiming its ownership of the Mafia Wars trademark, and accuses the rival developer of purposely attempting to "create a likelihood of confusion with regard to and/or trade off of Digital Chocolate's Mafia Wars mark".
Digital Chocolate is claiming federal/common law trademark infringement, federal/state/common law unfair competition, false designation of origin, and cyber-squatting in its lawsuit against Zynga, and is seeking damages to be decided at trial, attorney's fees/expenses, and the transfer of the MafiaWars.com domain name.
The developer adds, "[The] defendant has been unjustly enriched and should be ordered to disgorge any and all profits earned as a result of such unlawful conduct."
Zynga, which has spent the past several weeks advertising and celebrating the launch of its Mafia Wars Las Vegas expansion, responded to the suit in a statement earlier today: "We are surprised and disappointed by Digital Chocolate’s lawsuit. The timing of the action appears to be opportunistic, and we and plan to defend ourselves vigorously."