Games Developer Digital Chocolate Takes Zynga To Court Over 'Mafia Wars' Name

Digital Chocolate, a leading publisher of casual games for the iPhone (and a bunch of other mobile phones), the Web, Facebook and Xbox LIVE, has apparently filed suit against its high-profile rival Zynga.

We don’t have any details on the specifics of the lawsuit yet, but the nature of the suit indicates that this is a dispute over intellectual property and/or trademarks.

Zynga has already commented on the suit, but declined to share details about its subject at this point. The company says it is “surprised and disappointed by Digital Chocolate’s lawsuit” and that the timing of the action appears to be opportunistic.

Zynga added that it will defend itself vigorously.

A quick check reveals that Digital Chocolate holds a couple of trademarks in the U.S., and an equally quick Google Patents search reveals only one U.S. patent issued to Digital Chocolate, namely no. 2006/0281553. Said patent was published back in 2006, listing William ‘Trip’ Hawkins – founder of Digital Chocolate and former founder and CEO of Electronic Arts – as one of the inventors.

We’re still digging in order to learn what the suit is about, specifically.

Update: TG Daily got a look at the court documents and reports that Digital Chocolate is suing Zynga because it “falsely claimed to the public, the United States Patent Office and the courts that it ‘coined’ the Mafia Wars mark and owns superior rights to the mark.”

The gaming startup indeed holds the rights to the name Mafia Wars, although its eponymous mobile game(s) are largely unknown compared to Zynga’s smash hit with the same name.

Digital Chocolate goes on to allege that it notified Zynga of the name conflict last year and was subsequently told, in writing, that Zynga would stop using the Mafia Wars name. Except it did not, hence the lawsuit.

We’ve contacted Digital Chocolate but have not heard back yet.