TF_GIJoe_SDCC2013Earlier today, ANN reported that Harmony Gold filed suit against Hasbro for copyright infringement. Harmony Gold alleges that Hasbro violated the company’s rights to the Macross, Mospeada, and The Southern Cross properties, as well as Harmony Gold’s rights to produce derivative works that include toys and other merchandise. Specifically, Harmony Gold mentioned the “Veritech Fighter VF-1” in their filing documents.

According to Harmony Gold, the infringing merchandise, which has caused the company “substantial pecuniary damages” due to its distribution, is the “G.I. Joe and the Transformers … The Epic Conclusion” toy set. For those that aren’t aware, this set includes a G.I. Joe Skystriker plane colored like Autobot Jetfire, A G.I. Joe VAMP vehicle colored like Autobot Hound, Baroness, Decepticon Ravage, Snake Eyes, and Cobra Samurai dressed like Decepticon Bludgeon.

Harmony Gold alleges that the company is sustaining “substantial pecuniary damage” from the sale of the toys. For those that aren’t aware, “pecuniary” is legalese for “monetary”. Anyway, the company is requesting that the courts order Hasbro to:

  • Stop selling, marketing, and distributing the toys
  • Deliver all infringing toys to Harmony Gold
  • Recall all toys from those who are known to have purchased or received copies of the set
  • “[A]ccount for all gains, profits and advantages derived from their acts of infringement”
  • Pay Harmony Gold all damages suffered from sales of the products, as well as “exemplary damages, prejudgment interest, lawsuit costs, attorneys’ fees, and any other relief the court deems appropriate.”

Now, let’s look at absurdity of the case itself.

Harmony Gold is suing for “severe pecuniary damages” on a toy, sold as a Comic Con exclusive. The toy, which was priced at $99, were a one-run toy made specifically for this year’s San Diego Comic Con. A few units would be sold to Transformers and GI Joe fan club members, but their impact on the run is insignificant. These are toys that get runs in the hundreds or, at highest, the low thousands of units. So, assuming that Hasbro had infringed on Harmony Gold’s property, the take would be, at best, a far cry from the “severe damages” that Harmony Gold alleges.

Hasbro's Jetfire-Colored Skystriker Toy from Comic-Con 2013

Hasbro’s Jetfire-Colored Skystriker Toy from Comic-Con 2013

Personally, I’m skeptical that Harmony Gold has a case. In 1984, Hasbro held a license to Macross’s VF-1 Valkyrie fighter (note the model), which the company included in the Transformers cartoon under the name Skyfire. He would later be renamed to Jetfire due to legal reasons, but that’s not totally relevant to the story at hand. The character was re-colored from its original scheme to the red and black that the character is known for today. While Hasbro can use the Valkyrie mold for their toys, they cannot, and do not use the same colors, naming, or logo stylings that are found on Harmony Gold’s “Veritech” line. This means that there’s no “UN Spacy” branding, no “VF-1” signature, nothing that could tie it to Robotech, aside from the mold, which Hasbro is licensed to use.

A Valkyrie VF-1 Fighter

A Valkyrie VF-1 Fighter

Now, we’ll go a step further. The mold used on these limited runs is a Skystriker plane, which is an entirely different mold based on the F-14 Tomcat. While the appearance is similar to that of the VF-1’s jet mode, one could easily argue that this is due to their bases, both of which borrow heavily from┬áthe F-14’s design. So, were this to go to court in the requested jury trial, the argument for Harmony Gold would be that the figure is based on a figure that used the Veritech mold. The color scheme is different, the toy’s mold doesn’t match, even the branding is nowhere close. And, given precedent in Hasbro’s releases of previous Jetfire and Skystriker models, Harmony Gold has shown negligence in defending any trademarks against Hasbro. In short, they’ll be laughed out of the courtroom.

A Valkyrie VF-1-D - closer in color, but still far away in both style and branding.

A Valkyrie VF-1-D – closer in color, but still far away in both style and branding.

More than anything, the case appears to be an attempt by Harmony Gold to flex their muscle and prove their relevance in a market. Their fight is as much a statement on Macross as it is one of profits. This a case that is probably expected to settle before it hits trial, so that Harmony Gold can extract a few dollars and crow about how they are “in the right” regarding the Robotech property. However, fortunes may not be in Harmony Gold’s favor this time around, as Habro has both the cash and the financial interest to keep their lines rolling. I doubt that seeing two highly respected toys get the axe will go over well with the company’s die-hard customers, and a conglomerate like Hasbro has an interest in keeping royalties out of the picture whenever possible.