G4TV has penned an editorial where they analyze what's happened to the rights of the System Shock franchise, and what it would take for a hypothetical System Shock 3 to get developed and released. Here's a sampling:
In 2006, a trio of rumors hinted that Electronic Arts was making System Shock 3. First came a trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Then came a couple of unconfirmed reports in Shacknews and PC Gamer U.K., with the latter publication reporting that EA's Redwood Shores studio was handling development.
But even if EA wanted to publish another System Shock, the company didn't have the rights to do so. Back when the original game was made, producer Warren Spector negotiated a deal in which EA got the trademark to the series, while the developers at Looking Glass Studios kept the rights. To create another System Shock game, you need both. "My thinking was it would force us to be married so it never would be that either party should be able to say we own that, we're making the next game, screw you," Spector told the San Jose Mercury News last November.
In hindsight, the deal only jeopardized System Shock's future. Looking Glass Studios closed in 2000, a year after System Shock 2's release, and the copyright to the series went into the hands of an insurance company. That left EA with only the System Shock name, but no actual development rights.