September 20, 2007
There has been quite a bit of discussion on the name change from “Rockman” to “Mega Man” occurred. Most recently, several people have suggested that someone else (usually they state a singer) held a trademark to the name “Rockman” and therefore Capcom had to change it.
This could be the case, but I’ve never found any evidence that it’s true.
First of all, it’s surprisingly difficult to prove that such a singer existed during the correct time frame or that he was popular enough to even appear on Capcom’s radar. (I’ve never heard of him, and I still listen to 80’s rock music.) Secondly, he would have had to have trademarked the name for it to even be an issue. Contrary to popular belief, copyrights (which are automatic) do not protect names. Trademarks protect names, and trademarks must be deliberately registered and rigorously defended in order to be considered valid.
And even assuming there was a singer with a trademark, it’s possible it wouldn’t have been an issue anyway. For example, there is a superhero named “Iceman” (I remember watching him on the old “Spiderman and Friends” cartoons when I was a kid long before the NES itself existed, much less Mega Man). Yet Capcom did not have to rename Ice Man, the Robot Master. People are allowed to use the same names as trademarked names as long as it’s not an attempt to infringe on the trademark. I doubt Rockman, a little robot video game character, would have infringed on a singer’s trademark any more than a video game character infringed on a superhero’s trademark. (In fact, since superheroes appear in video games far more frequently than singers, I’d almost think Iceman would be an issue long before Rockman.)
But not withstanding all of that, in every interview or piece of literature that I’ve ever read that’s come straight from Capcom employees, the reason they always give when the whole Rockman name issue comes up is that the U.S. branch of Capcom thought the “Rockman” name wouldn’t sound good to native English speakers. Now it could be that they are simply making excuses and don’t wish to delve into any legal matters that may have existed, but the fact of the matter is, that is the “official” answer as of right now.
Therefore, unless you’ve spoken to someone at Capcom who was there during the decision-making process, anything else is purely fan speculation.
- The MegaMaster