Judge Refuses to Sack Potential Billion-Dollar 'Madden NFL' Game Lawsuit

The game's creator beats back an initial attempt by Electronic Arts to dismiss the lawsuit at the preliminary stage.

Robin Antonick, the man who created the first version of the mega-successful Madden NFL Football video game, has survived the first hurdle in a massive lawsuit against Electronic Arts.

On Tuesday, a federal judge refused to dismiss Antonick's claims against the giant video game publisher, potentially setting the stage for an interesting fight over intellectual property in video games. The case could be worth billions of dollars.

Antonick sued in March with allegations that he was unfairly denied profit participation in the Madden NFL franchise, which has sold more than 85 million copies in the more than 20 years since it hit the marketplace.

The plaintiff created the first version of the game, released in 1988 for the Commodore 64, MS Dos, and Apple II platforms. At that time, Antonick was working under a developmental contract with EA, which he says entitled him to royalties on derivative versions.

But then in the early 1990s, EA hired Park Place Productions to develop a new version of the Madden game and allegedly extricated itself from its relationship with Antonick by telling him that a new Sega Genesis Madden NFL game would be more of an "arcade" game without any reference or use of his intellectual property.

Antonick allegedly accepted this representation for two decades until he heard Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins speak in interviews upon commemoration of the game's 20th anniversary how even the current game was derived from the initial versions of software.

He then sued and pointed to further interviews by founders of Park Place saying how they had little contact with John Madden, weren't familiar with his playbook, and managed to turn around the initial games in record time. Antonick said this raises doubts about whether their versions were really based from scratch.

The initial hurdle in this case was for Antonick to convince a judge why it took him two long decades to bring a lawsuit. EA filed a motion to dismiss based on the expiration of the statute of limitations.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer accepted Antonick's arguments as "plausible" that EA may have fraudulently concealed and misrepresented the situation to Antonick, thus tolling the clock that the Madden creator had to file a complaint.

As a result, the dispute now heads to discovery to determine whether the new versions of Madden NFL contain any of Antonick's protectable elements. Judge Breyer will likely have to make a determination over the substantial similarity in the respective games. Antonick has taken credit for introducing, among other things, the simulation of player behavior, a three-dimensional projection of the field, instant replay and a positional camera -- elements that EA argues are not expression and thus not protectable by the US Copyright Act.

In the lawsuit, Antonick demands over tens of millions of dollars in owed royalties and potentially billions in disgorged profits.

E-mail: eriqgardner@yahoo.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner