On December 31, 2020, Streetkart (previously known as MariKar) was ordered by the Supreme Court of Japan to pay ¥50 million ($480,000 USD) to Nintendo following a 3-year copyright infringement lawsuit surrounding their go-karting services. The court determined that this Tokyo-based tourist attraction had infringed on Nintendo’s intellectual property rights by unlawfully using Mario Kart footage and likeness in its promotional materials and services.
A History of Imitating Nintendo
Streetkart first ran into legal challenges back in 2017. From the similarity of the then company name “MariKar” and “Mario Kart” to renting Nintendo character costumes to wear while go-karting, Streetkart undoubtedly profited from its unofficial association with Nintendo’s infamous Mario Kart franchise. That year, the court ordered Streetkart to pay Nintendo ¥10 million ($97,000 USD) “for the unauthorized use of [Nintendo’s] Intellectual Property and concerns… [about] bring[ing] the Nintendo brand into disrepute.” Streetkart rebranded, changed its name, and described it’s experience as a “superhero-themed attraction” in an attempt to distance itself from Nintendo. Nonetheless, the business continued to attract thousands of tourists from across the globe who were interested in the knock-off Mario Kart experience.
Nintendo argued that Streekart violated Japan’s Unfair Competition Prevention Act. This Act protects businesses from unfair conduct including: causing confusion with another party’s well-known goods and brand, misappropriation of another party’s goods or business, selling counterfeit goods, and misuse of domain names. In consideration of these IP protection laws, Nintendo presented a strong argument against Streetkart and its profitable association with the Mario Kart franchise.
The gaming giant had filed several copyright and patent infringement claims against Streetkart before 2017. Nintendo continued to pursue Streetkart for explicitly using Mario Kart footage and audio clips in its promotional material, on its go-karts, and in its selection of costumes available for rental. More generally, the company marketed its services as an imitation Mario Kart experience.
Several other companies provide Mario-themed go-karting experiences, but Streetkart’s were the most popular, especially among internationals. Despite its rebranding efforts, Streetkart still lost the Supreme Court appeal, which upheld the trial ruling and resulted in an additional ¥50 million ($480,000 USD) fine. These heavy fines are likely to deter other impersonators like Streetkart in the future.
Since Nintendo plans to build its own Mario Kart attraction at Super Nintendo World, formerly set to open last month, the multi-billion dollar corporation has unsurprisingly escalated its efforts to safeguard its franchise and intellectual property. By securing a win in the Supreme Court, Nintendo blue-shelled its competition, leaving Super Nintendo World as the sole destination for visitors looking for a real-life Mario-Kart experience.
Adele Zhang is an IPilogue Contributing Editor interested in the intersection between IP law and sports, and technology.