John Kirby (attorney)

Last updated

John Kirby
John Joseph Kirby Jr.

(1939-10-22)October 22, 1939
DiedOctober 2, 2019(2019-10-02) (aged 79)
Susan Cullman(m. 2004)
Relatives Edgar M. Cullman (father-in-law)

John Joseph Kirby Jr. (October 22, 1939 – October 2, 2019) was an American attorney. He was most notable for his successful defense for Nintendo against Universal Studios over the copyrightability of the character of Donkey Kong in 1984, from which Nintendo subsequently named the character Kirby to honor him.


Early life

Kirby was born in Falls Church, Virginia, on October 22, 1939, to John Joseph Kirby, a lawyer with the federal government for over 40 years, and Rose L. Mangan Kirby, a home maker. [1] He had two brothers, Peter Kirby and Michael Kirby, and two sisters Lisa Greissing and Cecelia Wrasse. [1]


During his younger days, Kirby worked at the United States Department of Justice as the special assistant to the head of the Civil Rights Division, John Doar, during the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. At the Department of Justice, where he first worked as a summer intern, he gathered voting records throughout the South that demonstrated evidence of widespread discrimination against African-Americans. His discovery of methods such as literacy tests specifically designed to exclude African-Americans from voting helped form the basis of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While at the Civil Rights Division, he also found himself personally escorting African-American children into segregated schools, surrounded by federal marshals. Later, he was appointed Deputy Director to the President's Commission on Campus Unrest, founded in the aftermath of the killings of four students at Kent State University.

Kirby eventually left the Justice Department and entered private practice. He argued in front of the Supreme Court and served as the chairman of the historic Wall Street law firm Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon. After Mudge Rose dissolved in 1995, he joined the international law firm Latham & Watkins LLP, where he would chair their New York Litigation Department until 2004 and serve as head of the New York office's Intellectual Property and Technology Practice Group until 2007. [1] During his four-decade career, Kirby represented a number of notable corporations in legal disputes, among which the likes of PepsiCo., General Foods, and Warner-Lambert. [2]

Kirby's most well-known case was Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Nintendo Co., Ltd. (1984), which he handled while a partner at Mudge Rose. In this case, he defended Nintendo against litigation from Universal Studios in a dispute revolving around the video game Donkey Kong , which Universal claimed to be an unlicensed used of the titular character from their film King Kong . Kirby won the case, a landmark victory for Nintendo, by presenting evidence that Universal had previously won a legal battle against RKO that said the story and characters of King Kong were in the public domain; thus, Universal had no legal right to claim ownership of the characters and basic scenario (man rescuing a woman from a large ape) when the studio originally threatened legal action against Nintendo. [3] For this defense, Kirby was considered to have "saved Nintendo" during its early growth into video games into the American market. [4]

In thanks for aiding them, Nintendo gave Kirby a $30,000 sailboat christened the Donkey Kong along with "exclusive worldwide rights to use the name for sailboats." [5] Shigeru Miyamoto also stated that the name of the character Kirby was chosen in honor of Kirby. [6] [7] It is rumored that a copy of the game Kirby's Dream Land was eventually sent to Kirby, who was humored and flattered. [8]

Personal life

Kirby was married to Susan Cullman, daughter of Edgar M. Cullman. [9] He had three children from a previous marriage and a stepdaughter. [9] [1]

Kirby died on October 2, 2019, due to complications from myelodysplastic syndrome, 20 days before his 80th birthday. [1]

Related Research Articles

Shigeru Miyamoto Japanese video game designer

Shigeru Miyamoto is a Japanese video game designer, producer and game director at Nintendo, where he serves as one of its representative directors. He is the creator of some of the most acclaimed and best-selling game franchises of all time, such as Mario and The Legend of Zelda.

Mario Fictional video game character from Nintendos Mario franchise and the companys mascot

Mario is a fictional character in the Mario video game franchise, owned by Nintendo and created by Japanese video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. Acting as the company's mascot, as well as being the eponymous protagonist of the series, Mario has appeared in over 200 video games since his creation. Depicted as a short, pudgy, Italian plumber who resides in the Mushroom Kingdom, his adventures generally center upon rescuing Princess Peach from the Koopa villain Bowser. Mario's fraternal twin brother and sidekick is Luigi.

Donkey Kong (character) fictional ape from the Donkey Kong series

Donkey Kong (DK) is a fictional gorilla character of the Donkey Kong and Mario video game franchises, as Mario's rival. A popular character, DK has appeared in many video games, along with his friend Diddy Kong. Donkey Kong appeared as Mario's first opponent in Nintendo's popular 1981 arcade game, Donkey Kong. Soon becoming more friendly, he has starred in his own Donkey Kong series, starting with sequels of the arcade game and 1994's Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). He remains an important ally in the Mario series, such as the Mario Kart games. DK debuted at the same time as Mario, and he still appears with the plumber on occasion, appearing as a playable character in the Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. series, and is the primary antagonist in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong games starting in 2004.

<i>Donkey Kong Country</i> 1994 video game

Donkey Kong Country is a 1994 platform game developed by Rare and published by Nintendo for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). It is a reboot of Nintendo's Donkey Kong franchise and follows the gorilla Donkey Kong and his nephew Diddy Kong as they set out to recover their stolen banana hoard from King K. Rool and the Kremlings. In 40 side-scrolling levels, the player collects items, defeats enemies and bosses, and finds secrets on their journey to defeat K. Rool. In the multiplayer modes, two players can work together cooperatively or race each other.

<i>Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddys Kong Quest</i> 1995 SNES video game

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest is a platform video game developed by Rare and published by Nintendo for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). It was released on 21 November 1995 in Japan, and in December 1995 in North America and Europe. It is the second instalment of the Donkey Kong Country series and serves as a direct sequel to Donkey Kong Country. It was re-released for the Game Boy Advance (GBA) in 2004. The game was made available for download on the Wii's Virtual Console in 2007, and the Wii U's Virtual Console in 2015. It was followed by a sequel, Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble!, in 1996.

<i>Donkey Kong 64</i> 1999 adventure platform game

Donkey Kong 64 is a 1999 adventure platform game developed by Rare and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64. It is the first Donkey Kong game to feature 3D gameplay. As the gorilla Donkey Kong, the player explores the themed levels of an island to collect items and rescue his kidnapped friends from King K. Rool. The player completes minigames and puzzles as five playable Kong characters—each with their own special abilities—to receive bananas and other collectibles. In a separate multiplayer mode, up to four players can compete in deathmatch and last man standing games.

Gunpei Yokoi Japanese game designer

Gunpei Yokoi, sometimes transliterated Gumpei Yokoi, was a Japanese video game designer. He was a long-time Nintendo employee, best known as creator of the Game & Watch handheld system, inventor of the "cross" shaped Control Pad, the original designer of the Game Boy, and producer of a few long-running and critically acclaimed video game franchises, such as Metroid and Kid Icarus.

<i>Radar Scope</i> 1980 shooter arcade game

Radar Scope is a 1979 fixed shooter arcade game developed by Nintendo R&D 2 and published by Nintendo. The player assumes the role of the Sonic Spaceport starship and must wipe out formations of an enemy race known as the Gamma Raiders before they destroy the player's space station. Gameplay is similar to Space Invaders and Galaxian, but set in a forced perspective angle.

<i>Donkey Kong Jr.</i> 1982 arcade game

Donkey Kong Jr. is a 1982 platform game that was released by Nintendo. It is the sequel to Donkey Kong, but with the roles reversed compared to its predecessor: Mario is now the villain and Donkey Kong Junior is trying to rescue his father. It first appeared in arcades and, over the course of the 1980s, was released for a variety of home platforms. The game's title is written out as Donkey Kong Junior in the North American arcade version and various ports to non-Nintendo systems.

<i>Donkey Kong</i> (video game) 1981 arcade game

Donkey Kong is an arcade game released by Nintendo in 1981. An early example of the platform game genre, the gameplay focuses on maneuvering the main character across a series of platforms in order to ascend a construction site, all while dodging and jumping over obstacles in his path. In the game, Mario must rescue a damsel in distress named Pauline, from the titular giant ape, Donkey Kong. The hero and ape would later become two of Nintendo's most popular and recognizable characters. Donkey Kong is one of the most important games from the golden age of arcade video games as well as one of the most popular arcade games of all time. The game was the latest in a series of efforts by Nintendo to break into the North American market. Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo's president at the time, assigned the project to a first-time video game designer named Shigeru Miyamoto. Drawing from a wide range of inspirations, including Popeye, Beauty and the Beast, and King Kong, Miyamoto developed the scenario and designed the game alongside Nintendo's chief engineer, Gunpei Yokoi. The two men broke new ground by using graphics as a means of characterization, including cutscenes to advance the game's plot and integrating multiple stages into the gameplay.

Retro Studios, Inc. is an American video game developer and subsidiary of Nintendo based in Austin, Texas. The studio is best known for its work on the Metroid Prime and Donkey Kong Country series, and has contributed to several other Nintendo-developed projects, such as Metroid Prime Hunters and Mario Kart 7.

Howard Lincoln American lawyer and businessman

Howard Charles Lincoln is an American lawyer and businessman, known primarily for being the former chairman of Nintendo of America and the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Seattle Mariners baseball team, representing absentee majority owner Hiroshi Yamauchi until Yamauchi died on September 19, 2013.

<i>Donkey Kong Jungle Beat</i> 2004 video game

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is a 2004 platform and score-attack video game developed and published by Nintendo for the GameCube. It is part of the Donkey Kong franchise and follows the gorilla Donkey Kong as he sets out to defeat a series of evil kings and conquer the jungle. Jungle Beat is designed for use with the DK Bongos, a bongo drum-style GameCube controller previously used with the Donkey Konga series of music games. The player uses the DK Bongos to control Donkey Kong through various side-scrolling levels as he collects bananas, swings on vines, chains combos, rides animals, and defeats enemies and bosses.

Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development Former division of Nintendo

Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development Division, commonly abbreviated as Nintendo EAD, formerly Nintendo Research & Development 4 Department, was formerly the largest software development division inside of Nintendo. It was preceded by the Creative Department, a team of designers with backgrounds in art responsible for many different tasks, to which Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka originally belonged. Both served as managers of the EAD studios and were credited in every game developed by the division, with varying degrees of involvement. Nintendo EAD was best known for its work on games in the Donkey Kong, Mario, The Legend of Zelda, F-Zero, Star Fox, Animal Crossing, Pikmin and Wii series.

<i>Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Nintendo Co., Ltd.</i> legal case

Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Nintendo Co., Ltd. was a case heard by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by Judge Robert W. Sweet. In their complaint, Universal Studios alleged that Nintendo's video game Donkey Kong was a trademark infringement of King Kong, the plot and characters of which Universal claimed as their own. Nintendo argued that Universal had themselves proven that King Kong's plot and characters were in the public domain in Universal City Studios, Inc. v. RKO General, Inc.

Donkey Kong is a series of video games featuring the adventures of a gorilla character called Donkey Kong, conceived by Shigeru Miyamoto in 1981. The franchise consists mainly of two game genres, but also includes additional spin-off titles of various genres.

<i>Mario</i> (franchise) Video game franchise

Mario is a Japanese media franchise, published and produced by video game company Nintendo, starring the fictional Italian character Mario. It is primarily a video game franchise, with the franchise's other forms of media including several television series and a feature film. It was originally created by game designer Shigeru Miyamoto with the arcade game Donkey Kong, released on July 9, 1981. The games have been developed by a variety of developers including Nintendo, Hudson Soft, and AlphaDream. Most Mario games have been released for Nintendo's various video game consoles and handhelds, from the third generation onward.

<i>Donkey Kong Country Returns</i> 2010 video game

Donkey Kong Country Returns is a side-scrolling platformer video game developed by Retro Studios and published by Nintendo for the Wii console. The game was released first in North America in November 2010, and in PAL regions and Japan the following month. A Nintendo 3DS port of the game by Monster Games, titled Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, was released in North America and the PAL region in May 2013, and in Japan the following month.

<i>Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze</i> 2014 side-scroller platform video game

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a side-scrolling platformer video game developed by Retro Studios, with assistance from Monster Games, and published by Nintendo for the Wii U console. The fifth installment in the Donkey Kong Country series, Tropical Freeze is the direct sequel to the 2010 Wii game Donkey Kong Country Returns, and was released in February 2014. An enhanced port for the Nintendo Switch was released in May 2018.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "John Kirby's obituary". Legacy. October 4, 2019.
  2. Sheff 122.
  3. For an account of the Donkey Kong litigation, see "The 'Shroom:Issue LXII/A History of Video Games".
  4. Oxford, Nadia (October 4, 2019). "John Kirby, the Lawyer that Saved Nintendo, Dies at 79". USgamer. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  5. Sheff, David (1999). Game Over: Press Start to Continue: The Maturing of Mario. Wilton, Connecticut: GamePress.
  6. Zablotny, Marc (September 20, 2012). "How did your favourite Nintendo characters get their names?". Official Nintendo Magazine . Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  7. Turi, Tim (June 17, 2011). "Miyamoto Talks Wii U, Zelda, And Nintendo's Past". Game Informer. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
  8. "HAL Laboratory: Company Profile". Retrieved August 15, 2012.
  9. 1 2 Hochstein, Peter (March 22, 2010). Cigars and Other Passions: The Biography of Edgar M. Cullman. Trafford Publishing. p. 351. ISBN   9781426923692.