The (Extremely Hypothetical) Case of Capcom vs. Comcept

From the day it was announced at the Penny Arcade Expo, there has been one question on everyone's mind regarding Mighty No. 9: "Is it close enough to Mega Man that Capcom could sue Comcept?"

Courtesy of a tip from AxlTheHunter II, we've learned that IGN put that very question to Comcept founder Keiji Inafune. In response, the he stated “If I said I wasn’t worried at all, that would be a lie."

“Everybody has a freedom in creativity," he continued, "and there are a lot of people out there that have created their games out of respect towards Mega Man. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with creating a game with a similar respect.”

IGN goes on to explain that Mighty No. 9 isn't being made to be identical to Mega Man, but as Inafune puts it, "have the same soul."  As for his former employers, Inafune said “So far, there hasn’t been any contact from Capcom."

“As a matter of fact," he goes on, "I’ve been talking with some of the dev team at Capcom, [and] there are some people saying that they secretly back the project, and are rooting for Mighty No. 9.”  Interesting indeed.

IGN isn't the only one with the question on their minds, though. In a rather timely edition of GameTrailers' weekly "Pach-Attack," which features Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter answering questions from viewers about the game industry, someone posed the same question, adding an inquiry of what that would mean for all the Kickstarter backers (or "Beckers," if you prefer).  

Pachter's response (warning: Not Safe For Work language and Nintendo trolling abound): 

For those who can't view the embedded video: 

So, look... anybody who steals intellectual property is likely to get sued. If he made Mega Man for Capcom and if they own the brand, and if they own all of his work, then patterning his new work off of the same character set probably is a violation of Capcom's copyrights. Although, truthfully, this is copyright in Japan, not copyright in the U.S., and I don't know how the rules work in Japan-- probably similar, but I'm not positive.
As far as-- he's not going to copy the story, my guess is he didn't steal the code, my guess is he worked the code himself, so it's really going to be "is the character similar?" 
We had a case in the U.S. that has been in the courts forever, and it's gone both ways, which is Bratz dolls, which were supposedly a rip-off of Mattel's Barbie. The guy who created the Bratz doll drew the drawings as he was sitting as an employee at Mattel, and I think he did it on his lunch hour, but he did it on their paper, he was being paid, and he signed a contract stating that anything he created while in their employ, they owned...
So, Mattel first won the lawsuit-- they got billions of dollars in damages, then that got reversed on appeal, because they said he did it in his spare time, and the damage was wrong, and I don't even know where it stands now.  
It's hard to prove that somebody ripped something off; if this guy looks like Mega Man, if he's got the little jet suit and he's got the same colors, the same big eyes and whatever... maybe, I don't know.  

After a brief aside noting that he found the Mega Man games too hard and never really played them very much, he returns to the question: 

The Kickstarter backers? You're going to get nothing. So if you gave the guy fifty bucks and [Capcom] wins? They get an injunction against his putting the game out? You get squat, you get nothing, and my guess is your fifty bucks is used on legal fees, so you get nothing.
So the answer is, "don't back people unless you think they have original ideas." Because if they're ripping somebody off, you're not getting anything for your money. 

Granted, Michael Pachter is regarded... well, in many different ways throughout the game community and industry, to say the least. The main reason we're posting his thoughts here are because he did raise an interesting point with the Bratz precedent.

What's more, while we do see some distinct differences between Mega Man and Mighty No. 9, it's going to be up to the courts to determine if that is enough, should it ever come to that. It's enough to make you wonder if doing things such as potentially modeling Call so closely to Roll is such a good idea in the long run, and what damage it could possibly do should Capcom decide to flex it's legal muscle later on. That may be something you should keep in mind when casting your vote.