Nintendo have been successful in their legal battle with Mari Mobility after Japan’s Intellectual Property High Court ordered the Tokyo based go-kart operator to pay damages for copyright infringement and unfair competition.
The legal battle started back in 2017, when Nintendo sued Mari Mobility (who were then named MariCar) for infringement of copyright. MariCar were one of many go-kart racing operators in Tokyo offering Mario Kart themed experiences.
The original lawsuit claimed that defendant company named “Maricar”, was an abbreviation of “Mario Kart” and was used in relation to hiring out go-karts.
The lawsuit also argued that MariCar offered go-karts for hire that bore an uncanny resemblance to the vehicles in the Nintendo game, with outfits matching the game’s main characters Mario, Luigi, Toad and Peach.
They also claimed that MariCar used videos and images with these designs for advertising and business without Nintendo’s permission.
Nintendo argued that this constituted unfair competition and copyright infringement as it was harming the Nintendo brand and was creating brand confusion to prospective consumers.
In 2018, although the court stated that the name ‘MariCar’ was not a widely used abbreviation for ‘Mario Kart’, the court did rule in favour of Nintendo due to the defendant’s unlawful use of the Nintendo character’s costumes and ordered the newly named Mari Mobility to pay Nintendo ¥10 million (approximately £67,448) in compensation. Mari Mobility were ordered to stop any use of outfits resembling those of the Nintendo games characters.
Mari Mobility appealed the decision arguing that it was not responsible for its customer’s use of costumes and go-karts. They stated that these were provided by a third party and that they were simply responsible for furnishing and maintaining the go-karts. Nintendo also appealed the amount of damages awarded – seeking instead ¥50 million.
In January 2020 the court found in favour of Nintendo.
The court ordered Mari Mobility to stop all activities deemed to be unfair competition, namely the removal of all similarities to Mario series characters, as well as the removal of the name MariCar from all branding and promotional materials.
Mari Mobility were ordered to pay Nintendo the increased amount of ¥50 million (around £352,000) for damages for unfair competition on the grounds that their actions have infringed upon Nintendo’s operating profits.
Mari Mobility now have rebranded their entertainment as a super-hero themed attraction named “Street Cart” and removed the availability of the costumes.
Their website also clearly states “Street Kart is in no way a reflection of Nintendo, the game ‘Mario Kart’.(We do not provide rental of costumes of Mario Series)”.
However, Mari Mobility and other similar entertainment experiences still need to be careful, as when booking these experiences, they are still labelled as Mario-Kart experiences, albeit unofficial ones.
Nintendo have been explicit in their approach to potential infringements, stating “We will continue to take necessary measures against infringement of intellectual property, including our brand, in order to protect our important intellectual property, which we have built up over many years’ efforts”.
The hefty fine should serve as a lesson to Mari Mobility and other companies that offer similar experiences that Nintendo will fiercely protect its intellectual property under the Unfair Competition Prevention Act , and in such matters, will come first.