Brothers' Game Genie outwits Nintendo at all levels to win pounds 10m

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TWO Britons have beaten Nintendo at its own computer game, winning a pounds 10m US Supreme Court judgment against the Japanese, writes Susan Watts.

Richard and David Darling have fought a three-year battle from the offices of their Warwickshire-based company, Codemasters. Nintendo has been trying to stop them selling a device they invented that lets players adjust the difficulty level of computer games.

The gadget, Game Genie, costs pounds 30- pounds 40. Players add the device to a game cassette and run through codes to lower or raise the 'lives' they have, speed up or slow down the action, make fuel run out sooner, deactivate or enhance monster enemies. The 'master' game remains untouched.

The device is particularly attractive to buffs who conquer new games quickly and want to make their enjoyment, and spending money, last longer.

The off-screen battle began when Nintendo gained an injunction against the brothers, banning Game Genie's sale in the US and Canada for a year. The company pledged a pounds 10m bond into court to back its claim that the brothers had breached copyright.

Nintendo's injunction expired in June 1991, but Richard, 25, and David, 26, had decided on a challenge. A California court rejected Nintendo's claims, then lawyers tried three times to get the ruling reversed. On 22 March, the US Supreme Court backed the Darlings. Nintendo can appeal no further, and the money has been shared between the brothers and US and Canadian distributors. The Darlings collected pounds 2.3m.

The brothers set up their first games company at Wadham Comprehensive, near Yeovil, Somerset, at 13, and established Codemasters in outbuildings at their parents' house in Southam, near Leamington, five years later.

Yesterday, Richard said: 'This is a strike for the rights of the smaller man. Nintendo are just one of many business conglomerates who think they can bully relatively tiny companies into submission. We had a great product which everybody wanted. By fighting this battle we had a lot to lose, but we have been vindicated . . . It is fantastic.'

Worldwide sales of Game Genie have exceeded pounds 65m. Last year the company, which employs 120, had a turnover of pounds 7.9m, and profits of nearly pounds 3m.

'Over the last few years we have made a nice profit and we are not what you would call poor,' said Richard, who is married, with a baby daughter. 'But if we hadn't fought this, I shudder to think what might have happened . . . . My brother drives a flash red Ferrari and is having helicopter lessons. But we are both down-to-earth chaps. I am perfectly happy with a moderate lifestyle.'