Consult just about any list of the greatest games of all time and you’re likely to encounter a fair few archetypes along the way. There’s the epic franchise starter, the historically important arcade title, the dubious indie-cred mention and a fair few sequel-spammed efforts that eventually outstayed their welcome. Then of course, there’s Shenmue, a Sega title occupying a theme all its own — that of the high-flying franchise mysteriously allowed to die.
Following the release of Shenmue 2 in 2001 fans of the brand have been made to endure the kinds of waiting pains usually reserved for die-hard Half-Life fanatics. If Sega ever planned on rewarding their monk-like patience — and there’s very little indication it did — then the road to Shenmue 3 just become that much more difficult.
According to the folks over at DualShockers.com, a recent copyright notice, filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office has confirmed that Sega no longer controls the rights to the Shenmue title in that territory. Whether this is some kind of major clerical error or part of an early spring-cleaning effort from Sega isn’t yet known, though the news does seem to open up the possibility of other businesses utilizing the Shenmue name for their own uses.
The document in question states that the cancellation occurred “because [the] registrant did not file an acceptable declaration under Section 8” meaning that the previous owner — Sega — either failed to refresh its ownership status in due time, or that the patent office itself took steps to wipe out a legally bogus (i.e. completely unused) trademark.
While some fans have welcomed the events as a second chance for the franchise, namely in the hands of another, keener developer, it’s important to note that this US trademark wouldn’t allow other companies to infringe upon Sega’s intellectual property rights, i.e. the characters, settings and unique elements that comprise the Shenmue experience. So, while an Internet squatter or-two might attempt to takeover a number of Shenmue-based urls we won’t be seeing Ryo and friends turn up in any unsanctioned TV infomercials any time soon.
In a way, Sega’s failure to maintain control of the trademark echoes its own indifference towards the Shenmue brand. Despite regurgitating year’s worth of terrible Sonic titles the publisher has never had the nerve to back a second franchise sequel, a decision that’s likely rooted in deep financial considerations. Both previous titles cost around 100 million dollars to produce — at a time when Sega was still able to afford such lavish spending. To put that figure in perspective $100 million is same amount of money most commentators believe was spent on the last Halo game, aka the single most expensive title in Microsoft history.
Will the world ever see a Shenmue 3? Why has the series been allowed to stagnate for so long? How will Sega respond to the apparent loss of its US trademark? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to check in with all of the latest Sega news, right here on Game Rant.
Shenmue is only available on Dreamcast, with its 2001 sequel Shenmue 2 also available on the original Xbox.
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