Williams Electronics, Inc. v. Bally Mfg. Corp.
568 F. Supp. 1274
United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division
Decided April 20, 1983

Plaintiff Williams Electronics, a manufacturer of pinball machines, filed suit against defendant for copyright and trademark infringement. Plaintiff’s pinball game is called Hyperball. In the game, the player shoots rolling balls at lightning bolt targets to prevent the bolts from hitting the energy center.

Defendant Bally Manufacturing is a competitor of plaintiff’s machines and has its own pinball machines called Rapid Fire. Bally Manufacturing designed Rapid Fire after its employees saw Hyperball at a trade show in March 1982. Defendant claims Rapid Fire is superior to Hyperball, and in response plaintiff filed suit for false representation and copyright infringement.

Plaintiff provided a certificate of copyright registration for Hyperball to prove the validity of its copyright. The court stated that the game itself is not protectable under copyright law, but certain aspects of the work are protectable such as the audiovisual game components. While defendant made the same type of game as Hyperball, the court stated the game concept is not copyrightable.

The court found that the substantial similarity of Hyperball and Rapid Fire is irrelevant under copyright law. The court held that the elements which plaintiff argued are copyrightable are common to virtually all pinball games and therefore, not protectable. The color, shapes, target placements, ball, grip handles, and lights are not functional elements of the game and are not protected. Additionally, the court found the two games were not substantial similar: Hyperball features thunderbolts, while Rapid Fire features aliens carrying shields.

The court found no substantial similarity between the two games and granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment regarding the copyright infringement. The court denied summary judgment for the Lanham Act claim, holding that there were issues of fact which remained regarding representations between the parties.
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