(CN) - Jurors improperly found that Electronic Arts stiffed a programmer on royalties he allegedly earned from designing the first football video games, a federal judge ruled.
Robin Antonick, a programmer and former college football player, designed the earliest versions of the popular "Madden NFL" video games for EA.
in 2011 that EA first contracted with him in 1983 to design a football game, and that he designed three versions of "John Madden Football" for the Apple II, Commodore C64 and IBM computers that were released in the late 1980s.
EA developed a new version of the Madden game for the Sega Genesis gaming system in 1990, however, and did not hire Antonick to work on it.
Antonick said an EA employee assured him that the new game "was being developed without any reference or use of his intellectual property."
Although he knew that EA released new editions of the Madden games every year, Antonick said he began to suspect that the company "continued to create derivative works from his work" in 2009, following the publicity around the 20th anniversary of the Madden games.
EA claimed that subsequent versions of Madden were developed based on the 1990 Sega game designed by another developer, without using any of Antonick's work.
EA moved to dismiss and moved for summary judgment three times, and the case
went to trial in two different phases in June 2013.
The first phase of the trial involved whether the statute of limitations barred Antonick's claims, and the second phase looked at the similarities between the Madden games for Sega Genesis and the Apple II version.
A federal jury in San Francisco found that EA failed to pay Antonick royalties for the "virtually identical" games the company made without him.
EA countered that Antonick did not prove substantial similarities between the games and that his testimony at trial was "clearly inconsistent" with the allegations in his lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer granted EA judgment
Wednesday in its challenge to the second part of the jury's verdict.
"In this case, the jury had no evidence of Apple II Madden or Sega Madden as a whole to enable it to make this subjective comparison," Breyer wrote in a 23-page order
. "By failing to offer evidence of the games in their entirety, Antonick's proof on Question 2 was insufficient."
The judge also found there was not enough evidence at trial to support the conclusion that the six Madden games for Sega are virtually identical to Madden for Apple II, and that no reasonable jury could have found the games to be virtually identical.
Antonick's expert Michael Barr testified that EA changed "just a few things" with the Sega Madden games, but Breyer was not convinced that this evidence sufficed.
"Without the opportunity to view each of the versions of Sega Madden, the jury had no basis for evaluating whether the changes Barr addressed altered each subsequent game such that they should not be considered one and the same for purposes of the intrinsic test," the judge wrote.
Because Antonick did not present enough evidence to prove infringement, Breyer found EA is entitled to both a judgment and a new trial on the question of whether there are substantial similarities between certain aspects of the games' source codes.
"Barr's opinion - essentially that Sega Madden's plays included some plays from Apple II Madden as well as others-is not evidence that the expression of the plays and formations in these games' source code is substantially similar to Antonick's," Breyer wrote.