CD Projekt Red filed a trademark for the word “Cyberpunk” last week, causing a stir with the studio’s fans and devoted followers of the genre. But the filing is really just par for the course in the games industry, CD Projekt Red explained in a follow-up tweet directed at dissenters.
“We want to protect our hard work and we don’t plan on using the trademark offensively,” the company explained on Twitter. “It’s a self-defense measure only.”
What CD Projekt Red is defending is its upcoming game, Cyberpunk 2077, which is based on a series of pen-and-paper role-playing games. The trademark actually makes for the biggest public development for the project in recent months. On forums like Reddit, though, the focus was less on what this could portend for the long-gestating Cyberpunk 2077 and more on how one studio owning the word “cyberpunk” could cause trouble for other games in the future.
“I hope they won't be able to push that trademark, it's kind of uncool move,” reads the original Reddit post from last week, which quickly blew up. “We wouldn't be able to have term cyberpunk used just like you can't use terms Banner or Saga without a fear of being sued. Future games like [VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action] would have to dance around the term that's core to their concept and wouldn't be able to use the term in the title.”
But as CD Projekt Red — and the majority of commenters — explained, trademarking titles in games and other media is a completely normal process. The studio wasn’t even the first one to grab the trademark on “Cyberpunk” (note the capitalization); in the U.S., original game creator R. Talsorian Games previously registered the trademark, and CD Projekt Red is taking it over from them. Sony Music owns the trademark to the word for other media in Europe as well.
The confusion lies in the fact that cyberpunk is also widely understood to be a genre of fiction. To those upset by the trademark registration, it seemed like CD Projekt Red was trying to take over a phrase that they saw akin to “fantasy” or “science fiction.”
That’s not really the case here, and CD Projekt Red clarified that trademarking something isn’t the same as copyrighting it, which would be more restrictive.
“These are totally different rights and they should not be confused,” the studio’s note states. “A registered trademark does not prohibit from using the word ‘CYBERPUNK’ if it’s not used in the course of business (e.g. branding, advertising etc.) and does not refer to products that are covered by the trademark registration.”
More importantly, owning the trademark doesn’t forbid other developers from designing games in the genre in the future. All it means is that we won’t see 45 other games called things like Cyberpunk’d, Super Cyberpunk Bros. or Cyberpunk 2078: Electric Boogaloo. (We could see games that use cyberpunk as an adjective, though, as CD Projekt Red explains.)
Ultimately, this is business as usual. It’s understandable why some fans were nervous, though; unlike CD Projekt Red, other makers of open-world RPGs have been less cool about how other companies used their trademarked words.
As for when we’ll actually be playing Cyberpunk 2077, that’s another story.