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Subject: Legal Question - Copyright or Patent rss

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Ryan M
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Do board game creators usually file copyright or patent protection for their games?
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Kent Reuber
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Anyone who writes anything should copyright it. Patents would be harder to get and defend.
 
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Lee Gauge
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You can patent a board game in the US, but beware that the USPTO database is chalk full of "board game patents." You can easily search for yourself at the USPTO web site to view some examples.

http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/search-adv.htm

For example, use this advanced search link and enter "CCL/273/236" (without the quote marks). This is one of the categories for board games (there are others).

Since there are so many board game patents out there, you will have to narrowly define your game to ensure it is patentable. A potential downside of a narrow patent is that it will be fairly easy for a third party to design around it. Hence the patent may not be that valuable...

Also, search around the web and see if you can find any court reports on board games in actual litigation. Wizards may have been in one regarding the CCG system, but in general, I would guess that the board game market does not generate enough revenue to support the cost of patent litigation. So, if you can't afford to litigate, the patent is of limited value (i.e., a law firm will not take a contingency case where the damages are only measured with a mere six figures -- there are much bigger fish to fry).

Ultimately, you will have to determine whether the $500 bucks you'll spend to file the application is worth it (assuming you will draft the application yourself, and you are an independent inventor). And then once you get the patent, you'll have to figure out what to do with it. Are you going to manufacture your games, or do you just want to license it? Given the volume of game patents in the PTO database, there is a strong possibility that you will do nothing with it. That being said, maybe just having a patent is cool -- gives you some geek-street-cred. It is a personal matter -- just recognize that this is an oft traveled road.

It would be interesting to search the PTO website for your favorite game designer or manufacturer to see if they actually have patents for their products. For example, the Shogun / Wallenstein (sp?) tower seems pretty novel -- Dirk Henn may have a patent on it. This research may help you determine whether your particular game patent is consistent with the market.

As far as copyright, in the U.S., you own your work the moment you create it (in general). You do not have to register it -- but registration is required if you wanted to bring an action in a federal court. So if someone copies your artwork, you have a case. If they build a game with very similar rules, but different artwork, you don't have a case.

Finally, an oft overlooked element of IP law is the Trademark. Trademark registration is a straight forward process, and in the long run, will be your most valuable piece of IP. I'm sure "Magic The Gathering" is trademarked six ways to Sunday. Again, do a search on your favorite games and see if the suits at those companies felt those trademarks were worth the investment. I don't have any insight, but as a general matter, I would expect you will find vastly more Trademarks for current games than you do patents. Just a guess though.

Good luck.

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Matthew Frederick
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Almost always just copyright unless there's a physical mechanism involved (like, say, Hungry Hungry Hippos).

For the size of market hobby games reach, generally patent protection is a waste of time and money, money that could either be spent on marketing or that could actually be part of the likely very small profit.

Wholesale mechanism combination copying is extremely rare in the hobby market, though not non-existent.
 
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Matthew Frederick
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leegauge wrote:
As far as copyright, in the U.S., you own your work the moment you create it (in general). You do not have to register it -- but registration is required if you wanted to bring an action in a federal court.

It's worth noting that you can indeed bring action without registration, but only for actual monetary damages, not for your court costs or any other damages (like to the reputation of your company or what have you). As I understand it.
 
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James Perry
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Fusionguy1 wrote:
Surely there are copywrite lawyers here on the geek who can help you.


No, but maybe there are copyright lawyers here.
 
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David Rauscher
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Registering your copyright can be helpful in some countries, but is not required.

Patents will be extremely difficult, and a complete waste of time. (And patents will expire in your lifetime.)
 
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Jacko Lantern
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Short answer is No: board game creators don't usually file copyright or patent protection for their games, because usually it's not worth it. Such protection is only even worth contemplating if plagiarism is a significant commercial risk, and with board games it generally isn't. Put it this way, however good a game is it's difficult even for the owner(s) to sell enough copies: it tends to be far more difficult for a non-owner to sell enough...
 
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Daniel Karp
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I have absolutely no authority on this subject, but from what I understand, as people have said, you can copyright the rules and artwork to a game relatively easily--it may be automatic, but it doesn't hurt to add a copyright notice. However, that protects only the actual wording and exact art. As I understand it, there is legally no reason that someone couldn't take an existing game, rewrite all of the rules in their own words (but make them functionally equivalent), create new art, and publish the game. This is legal, but, it very rarely happens, which suggests that it probably isn't really worth patenting most games.
 
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