Updated at 10:45 a.m. with additional information from an IP lawyer.
In 2005, developer Team Ico released its last video game. Nearly 10 years later, things are not looking good for its next release.
The trademark for The Last Guardian has expired, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (via NeoGAF). Sony did not file the necessary paperwork to ensure the continued protection of the title. This comes after nearly eight years of production on The Last Guardian, which follows the adventures of a boy who meets — and must work together with — a gigantic beast of myth. Sony Computer Entertainment has clammed up about The Last Guardian in recent years after continuous reports of delays and even a rumored cancellation. The publisher most recently said that it is “not ready” to talk about the state of the PlayStation 3 game, and it has said nothing about it since. Sony has not shown The Last Guardian in action since 2010. This is the second time the game’s trademark has expired.
The USPTO’s database claims that the trademark was “abandoned because no Statement of Use or Extension Request [was] timely filed after Notice of Allowance was issued.” Basically, Sony has just forgotten about the legal process to ensure ownership of the name.
We’ve contacted Sony for more information, and we’ll update this post with any new information.
We asked trademark lawyer Jesse Saivar to explain what this might mean, and he broke down the process for us.
“Based solely on the history of this application, this indicates that at some point in 2012, Sony planned to create a game titled ‘The Last Guardian,'” said Saivar. “They filed what’s called an ‘intent-to-use’ application which means they weren’t using that title yet, but planned to at some point in the future”
Saivar explains that the USPTO reviewed the application and found everything was in order. The next step for the agency was to order a “Notice of Allowance” to Sony. This is a three-year registration period that is broken up into six-month chunks. Every half year, Sony has to check in with the USPTO with a “Statement of Use.” This is when Sony can either show how it is using the trademark or it can ask for an extension.
“Sony filed three such extensions to keep the application alive,” said Saivar. “However, they had another Jan. 15, 2015 deadline to file an extension and they did nothing. This indicates that, unless they blew the deadline unwittingly, they have no further intention of using that title.”
Interestingly, Kiphanie Radford, the member of Sony Computer Entertainment America’s legal team that was in charge of filing the trademark information for The Last Guardian is no longer with the company, according to her LinkedIn profile. Radford joined the legal firm Cobalt earlier this year.
Saivar goes on to note that this USPTO abandonment isn’t final. Sony has two months to tell the USPTO that it missed the deadline and ask for another extension — the company will have to pay an additional fee for not filing within the appropriate amount of time.
The Last Guardian’s development history is brimming with troubles. In 2011, Team Ico leader and The Last Guardian director Fumito Ueda left Sony — although he said at the time that he would continue to work on the project as an independent contractor. Later that year, the game’s executive producer Yoshifusa Hayama also left the team.
In 2012, PlayStation Worldwide Studios production boss Shuhei Yoshida explained The Last Guardian was experiencing technical difficulties that prevented it from making an appearance at the Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show that year. In August of that year, Sony let the trademark expire, but it quickly confirmed that production continued on Team Ico’s latest project.
During this point of time, Sony started confusing the message about the status of The Last Guardian. During E3 2013, then Sony Computer Entertainment president Jack Tretton said the game was on hiatus. This seemingly confirmed rumors that were leaking from the company at that time. Once again, however, Sony backpedaled that statement to say that The Last Guardian was still in “active development.”
Finally, around the time of E3 in 2014, Sony reiterated The Last Guardian was in production but still needs some time.