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'Guitar Hero' Maker, Gibson Guitars in Patent Dispute

Video game publisher Activision Inc. has asked a federal court to declare that its popular "Guitar Hero" game does not violate a patent held by real-guitar maker Gibson Guitar Corp.

Gibson's 1999 patent covers a virtual-reality device that included a headset with speakers and that simulated participating in a concert, according to a complaint filed on Tuesday by Santa Monica, Calif.-based Activision in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Gibson is trying to get Activision to stop selling "Guitar Hero" until it gets a license under the patent, according to the complaint. But Activision says it doesn't want or need a license under the patent.

"We disagree with the applicability of their patent and would like a legal determination on this," George Rose, Activision's general counsel, said in a statement Wednesday.

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No one answered an after-hours call to Nashville, Tenn.-based Gibson.

The dispute arose in January, when Gibson attorneys sent Activision a letter accusing it of violating a patent titled "System and Method for Generating and Controlling a Simulated Musical Concert Experience," according to the complaint.

A copy of the patent included in the lawsuit and dated Nov. 23, 1999, describes a device that lets a user "simulate participation in a concert by playing musical instrument and wearing a head-mounted 3-D display that includes stereo speakers."

The device described in the patent also includes playback of audio and video of a prerecorded concert and a separate track of audio from the user's instrument, according to the patent form.

"Guitar Hero" users play songs using a stringless, plastic guitar by following graphics displayed on a TV connected to a game console. The TV also displays animated musicians playing along.

All the versions of "Guitar Hero" have been a boon to Activision. The company reported last month a 90 percent increase in profit for the third quarter ended Dec. 31, in part due to strong sales of "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock."

Shares of Activision fell 31 cents, or about 1 percent, to $26.82.