Video games offer a melting pot of intellectual property: trademark law, copyright law, and even patent law all come together in a delicious mix of intangible property. However, not all video game franchises are equal. Few can claim the same level of longevity, success, and nostalgia as Nintendo’s Mario Brothers series.

Among the most popular titles of the franchise is Mario Kart, a game in which characters from the franchise race each other in go karts. The characters repeat catch phrases, seek out power ups (invincibility, speed, etc.) and cartoonish weapons (banana peels, turtle shells, etc.), all with the singular goal of being atop the podium at the end of race. Over its 25+ years of existence, the game has resulted in significant sales, widespread nostalgia, and, unsurprisingly, numerous attempts from others trying to make money off of the characters. But a recent lawsuit in Japan brought media exposure to what might have been the greatest attempt yet to profit off the franchise: real life go-karting in Mario Brothers costumes in the streets of Tokyo.

How fun is that? From what I can tell, riders aren’t allowed to throw things at each other (thanks a lot, safety laws), but this tour would still be great. The attraction even attracted professional race car drivers. You don’t even need to provide your own costume, they’ve got a ton for you to choose from.

Race car drivers weren’t the only people to discover the tour. Nintendo’s lawyers did, too. I’d like to imagine they participated at least once before suing them, if only under the pretense of “fact development.” Nintendo sued and ultimately prevailed on claims of copyright infringement. The company has to pay Nintendo 10 million yen (about US$89,000) and can no longer hand out Mario Brothers character costumes.

It’s hard to quibble with Nintendo’s actions here. The MariCar company intentionally distributed character costumes in order to attract customers.

But what are Mario Kart fans supposed to do now? Well, there will be an official Super Nintendo World opening at Universal Studios Japan ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The theme park will include a Super Mario World featuring Bowser’s castle, Peach’s Castle, and, yes, a “Mario Kart attraction.”

But if you prefer the thrill of participating in likely infringing activities, you can check out the Australia-based MUSHROOM RALLY race event purportedly coming to Denver, soon. Participants will have a chance to battle it out in Las Vegas for the championship race. Ticket prices are yet to be determined and are limited to just 600 participants. I suggest you read the fine print on the refund policy though – just a hunch…

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

Recently I discovered a wonderful infographic on the different meanings of colors in various cultures. It got me thinking that people who are branding a product, service or company might be unintentionally offending some of their potential customers. In the use of colors for example, Westerners/Americans would consider grey to be a good logo color to show respect, but in Japan the color for respect would be white and in China it would be yellow. Grey in Japan would be more aligned with words like modesty or reliability.

Sometimes the potential for offending your target customer is obvious. For example, Assitalia is one of the biggest insurance companies in Italy. I am sure the company developed its name without thinking about international considerations and in Italy the name is fine. But if they ever wanted to expand to an English speaking country…well, let’s just say there might be a problem.

But sometimes the potential for offending your customer is less obvious. Most of the large companies I work with agree to conduct foreign language checks to ensure that the names have no problematic connotations in the major foreign languages. In one instance that prevented us from making a major mistake. It turns out one of the names we developed had an obscure slang reference in the Spanish language to a body part that…well, let’s just say it was not a good choice of name.

Some of my smaller clients do not want to do foreign language checks because they are not planning to sell internationally. That is a mistake! Even if you have no plans to sell your product internationally, you need to beware of potential unintended consequences of your actions.

For example, people of Hispanic or Latino origin in the US represent over 17% of the population. What if you unintentionally chose a name that had a bad (but not obvious) connotation in the Spanish language? Would you like to offend over 17% of your potential market?

It is relatively easy to investigate potential unintended language consequences. There are linguistic companies or freelancers who will do this work for a reasonable fee. You can also try to do it yourself if you know different native language speakers. Just ask them questions like:

• How is this word pronounced by a native speaker of your language?

• Is this word similar in sound or appearance to other words in your language? If so, what do those words mean?

 • Are there any inappropriate associations with this word? Is this word similar to any slang terms of the language?

Finally, if you want to check to see if a common word is being used as slang for something else in the English language you can always check the Urban Dictionary. However, be aware that, even though the Urban Dictionary is regulated by volunteer editors (similar to Wikipedia), some of the content of the Urban Dictionary is sexual in nature (for adults only!).