retro look - (c) question


I recently had a discussion with a friend - and we disagreed on this one - but I am curious about what you think.

You probably already saw some t-shirts with “invaders” or pacman style graphics on them… so the question is – why (so it seems) is nobody enforcing copyright or TM on such products? Are these well known shapes public domain?

I mean, it would be great if nobody really owns these – but that’s the question – what do you think what would happen if you come out with good new product that looks like retro games graphics?
OK some t-shirts are already out there, I have seen them…but if you created a product that looks similar (but not the same) to one of these early video game characters – do you think you would get a call from a lawyer?

Since all early characters were only 8x8 pixels or so…. Whatever you create, even if it is not exactly the same, will look quite similar…. and this seems to shape into nasty ‘gray’ legal zone… So I wonder what’s up with all that.

Yeah, original Atari is bust – Taito (space invaders) is still here – there were bunch of others too.

I have heard Apple has design patent to some on MAC screen Icons… so should we assume same is the case with game characters. In any event… even if exact shape is protected – what is troubling is that somebody can claim new design is ‘too similar to’ old ones – but again, there’s only that much you can create with 8x8 blocks never mind if it t-shirt or cupboard or quilt. So it will pretty muvh always look similar.

I would assume one could NOT get design patent or TM for such new shape because it is too similar to old ones… But, obviously “similar” can mean many things.

Here are some shirts with retro design (I have nothing to do with any of these):

And here actual product with invaders look:

So it kinda can be done - it seems.

Any comment appreciated!