Guitar Hero and Gibson Squabble

Last Updated Mar 28, 2008 11:59 AM EDT

Gibson Guitar Inc., the legendary guitar maker, and Activision Inc., the maker of the now legendary Guitar Hero video game franchise, are in a squabble that I find to be rather interesting. Let's look at the basic facts:
  • The Guitar Hero videogame - where players use a guitar-shaped controller to "play" along with musical notes that stream across the screen - was released in 2005, and the franchise has become a cultural phenomenon that has done over $1 billion in business.
  • Gibson has been a high-profile partner in the game, licensing Activision the right to model its controllers on Gibson guitars and use their likenesses in the game.
  • The media has reported that Guitar Hero has "saved guitar music," because it has inspired many people to pick up the real thing (which, we can assume, has brought some nice business Gibson's way).
Now, three years later, Gibson has issued a big ol' "Wait a minute!" They claim that the video game violates a 1999 patent they hold on technology to simulate a musical performance, and want Activision to obtain a license from them or halt sales. (The Gibson patent involves a musical instrument, a 3D headset with stereo speakers, and a pre-recorded concert). Activision has asked a court to render the claim invalid, and claims that their technology does not infringe on the patent and, by waiting three years, Gibson has granted an implied license for any technology.

What I'm wondering is: Is there something wrong with Gibson deciding to do this now?[poll id=30]Got a side in this guitar duel? Tell us about it in the comments section.
Have a workplace-ethics dilemma you'd like to see in a poll? Email wherestheline (at)

  • William Baker

    William Baker is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in Popular Science, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Daily News, Boston Magazine, The Weekly Dig and a bunch of other places (including Field & Stream, though he doesn't hunt and can't really fish). He is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, where he writes the weekly column, "Meeting the Minds." He holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is at work on his first book.