Board Game Legal Issues

In short, what repres­ents an evo­lu­ti­on in the board game com­pa­red to what is asso­cia­ted with a sin­gle game is not always a clear line. This is some­thing to remem­ber when pla­gia­rism con­tro­ver­sies occur in this area. To date, the­re does not appe­ar to be a sim­pli­fied online gui­de writ­ten by a lawy­er that exp­lains intel­lec­tu­al pro­per­ty rights in rela­ti­on to board games. To be clear, howe­ver, this arti­cle does not pro­vi­de legal advice. The pur­po­se of this arti­cle is to pro­vi­de game desi­gners with easy-to-under­stand advice on law (IP), which is lar­ge­ly regu­la­ted by the sta­te. It is divi­ded into three sec­tions: so if someo­ne had to repro­du­ce the basics of a game in terms of rules, but wri­te them dif­fer­ent­ly and not copy gra­phics, images, text, etc., this could theo­re­ti­cal­ly be accep­ta­ble under copy­right law. For text in rules, cards and other com­pon­ents, as well as for all works of art on the box, game board, card, etc., copy­right pro­tec­tion is gran­ted as soon as they are fixed, so regis­tra­ti­on is not abso­lute­ly necessa­ry. Howe­ver, regis­tra­ti­on is rela­tively inex­pen­si­ve ($35 in the US) and can give you the advan­ta­ge of 1) the presump­ti­on of copy­right owners­hip and 2) a regis­tra­ti­on date indi­ca­ting copy­right owners­hip. Yet copy­right regis­tra­ti­on for the­se com­pon­ents is rare among game designers.

Due to the phy­si­cal natu­re of board games, the cloning pro­blem is not as serious. Hig­her cos­ts, both in terms of com­mis­sio­ning and purcha­sing, make clo­nes less likely to suc­ceed. Thu­an Tran is a ban­ned VA part­ner at Dun­lap, Ben­nett & Lud­wig, whe­re he works in liti­ga­ti­on and intel­lec­tu­al pro­per­ty. He gra­dua­ted from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­gi­nia in 2015 with a Bache­lor of Arts in Cogni­ti­ve Sci­ence and Government and from Washing­ton & Lee Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law in 2021 with a J.D. Thu­an is extre­me­ly pas­sio­na­te about board games and is co-aut­hor of a law jour­nal arti­cle with Pro­fes­sor Chris­to­pher B. Seaman of Washing­ton & Lee Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law on the role of intel­lec­tu­al pro­per­ty in pro­mo­ting inno­va­ti­on in the table game indus­try. will be publis­hed in May 2022 in Iowa Law Review Vol. 107. Now you too can be proud of your con­di­ti­on and espe­cial­ly your love for board games. The Ten­nes­see Meep­le t‑shirt is prin­ted on soft and com­for­ta­ble 100% ring-spun Anvil 980 t‑shirts and is avail­ab­le in sizes S to XXXL. Learn more. 12.

Board game design, Board­Ga­me­Geek, (last visi­ted Janu­a­ry 22, 2015). Patent law also takes into account designs that can be attri­bu­t­ed to new and ori­gi­nal orna­ments. While a uti­li­ty model app­lies to the ope­ra­ti­on of an arti­cle, a design patent deals with what the arti­cle loo­ks like. As such, a design patent can be a way to pro­tect new game com­pon­ents, allowing the owner to pre­vent others from using simi­lar-loo­king com­pon­ents. The design pro­tects only the deco­ra­ti­ve ele­ments of the object con­cer­ned; Any aspect of the item that per­forms a func­tion is not sui­ta­ble for a drawing. Once a game is released, it can be the sub­ject of one or more expan­si­ons – addi­tio­nal com­pon­ents or rules that modi­fy or impro­ve the ori­gi­nal game. Often, the­se exten­si­ons are made by the ori­gi­nal desi­gner or a publis­her who has acqui­red the right to publish the game from the desi­gner; In such cases, the assign­ment of intel­lec­tu­al pro­per­ty rights — copy­right, trade­mark and/or patent — remains the same as for the under­ly­ing game. Howe­ver, some games are publis­hed in one coun­try and licen­sed to ano­t­her com­pa­ny for publi­ca­ti­on and dis­tri­bu­ti­on in ano­t­her coun­try. Depen­ding on the terms of the licen­se, the for­eign com­pa­ny may have the right to deve­lop an exten­si­on. It can some­ti­mes be dif­fi­cult to get enough play­ers in one room at the same time to play games. Ver­si­ons of com­pu­ter pro­grams of board games that are loa­ded onto a com­pu­ter and play­ed by a play­er against the com­pu­ter have been around for some time. The tran­si­ti­on to an online for­mat that can be play­ed by mul­ti­ple play­ers in real time or asyn­chro­nous­ly makes per­fect sen­se for a board game developer.

Howe­ver, play­ers can be impa­ti­ent, and if a game publis­her isn‘t fast enough to crea­te and publish an online ver­si­on of a popu­lar game, tho­se in the com­mu­ni­ty who are enter­pri­sing pro­gramm­ers can take mat­ters into their own hands and offer a home­ma­de, “unof­fi­cial” ver­si­on of the game. Of cour­se, such vigi­lant game deve­lo­p­ment has intel­lec­tu­al pro­per­ty impli­ca­ti­ons that can lead to pro­blems. It‘s a gre­at balan­ce bet­ween the desi­re to fos­ter com­mu­ni­ty and love for their games and the pro­tec­tion of their intel­lec­tu­al pro­per­ty and work pro­duct. But soon after this sto­ry cal­med down, an even more important sto­ry appeared. Over­turn, a game that was loo­king for fun­ding on Kick­star­ter, had bur­ned all of its fun­ding and recei­ved world­wi­de atten­ti­on. Howe­ver, with this atten­ti­on came atten­ti­on and soon play­ers dis­co­ve­r­ed pla­gia­rism in the inst­ruc­tion manu­al, art­work and minia­tures of the game. From an ethi­cal point of view, almost any part of a board game can be pla­gia­ri­zed. Sin­ce it takes crea­ti­vi­ty and effort to deve­lop the game pro­cess, design the rules, crea­te the art and so on, copy­ing without attri­bu­ti­on is a form of pla­gia­rism. A trade­mark can pro­tect the name and other aspects of a board game. Trade­marks are used to iden­ti­fy the source of a par­ti­cu­lar pro­duct or ser­vice and to dis­tin­guish a seller‘s pro­ducts from tho­se of others in the mar­ket­place. If the name of a game is not gene­ric or only descrip­ti­ve of the game, it may jus­ti­fy trade­mark pro­tec­tion. Simi­lar­ly, other aspects of a game – cha­rac­ter names, logos, gra­phic designs, etc.

– can be con­si­de­red trade­marks. As with any other trade­mark in the United Sta­tes, regis­tra­ti­on is not requi­red becau­se trade­mark rights ari­se once the trade­mark is used in com­mer­ce, and the­re­fo­re the game deve­lo­per can pre­vent others who have just come later from using trade­marks if the­re is a likeli­hood of con­fu­si­on among the con­su­mer public. Patent law offers pit­falls for the reck­less that can hin­der the plans of a hope­ful game desi­gner. Often, a game deve­lo­per will ask play­ers to play the game as a pro­to­ty­pe and pro­vi­de feed­back that can be used to refi­ne the design. While play­tests may iden­ti­fy design issu­es that may make gamb­ling less enjoya­ble — if not impos­si­ble — public dis­clo­sure in the United Sta­tes may invo­ke the sales ban that pre­vents the grant of a patent if the inven­ti­on has been “used publicly, for sale, or other­wi­se ope­ned to the public” more than a year befo­re the filing date.11 (In some other coun­tries, the­re is no one-year grace peri­od; Any public dis­clo­sure pri­or to filing exclu­des the patent.) The­re­fo­re, play­tests – espe­cial­ly in a public envi­ron­ment, such as a gaming con­ven­ti­on or tra­de show – could be con­si­de­red a public dis­clo­sure that pre­vents paten­ta­bi­li­ty. Some desi­gners also offer print-and-play ver­si­ons of their games, which allow play­ers to down­load, print, and play simp­le ver­si­ons of a game‘s com­pon­ents and rules befo­re the game is released. Again, this may be suf­fi­ci­ent public dis­clo­sure to reject a patent app­li­ca­ti­on. Howe­ver, enfor­cing the rights to your crea­ti­on is ano­t­her matter.

While it is rela­tively easy to pro­tect copy­righ­ted ele­ments such as illus­tra­ti­ons, text, etc., and even trade­marks, it is much more dif­fi­cult and often impos­si­ble to pro­tect the idea behind the game. Com­pa­red to other cate­go­ries of intel­lec­tu­al pro­per­ty, the legal stan­dards for obtai­ning a patent are very strict. A per­son must file a patent with the United Sta­tes Patent and Trade­mark Office (“USP­TO”), and if gran­ted, the patent can last up to 20 years from the filing date. Some nota­ble games that have been paten­ted inclu­de Monopoly2, Magic: The Gathering3, Life4, Battleship5, and Scrabble6. Design patents are also a way to pro­tect the deco­ra­ti­ve aspects of a game, such as the shape and color of the tiles, as long as they are not func­tio­n­al or have no use in the game. A batt­le for one of the most famous board games in histo­ry has led to a chan­ge in trade­mark law. Par­ker Bro­thers, publis­her of Mono­po­ly, was invol­ved in a deca­des-long seri­es of lawsuits with an eco­no­mist named Ralph Anspach, who had desi­gned a game cal­led Anti-Sym­po­si­um and began sel­ling it. The dis­pu­te invol­ved various claims, but the trade­mark infrin­ge­ment claim pre­vai­led. Final­ly, in 1983, the Supre­me Court left an appel­la­te court that ruled that the word “Mono­po­ly” had beco­me gene­ric becau­se buy­ers asso­cia­ted the name with the pro­duct rather than the source.7 In par­ti­cu­lar, the evi­dence show­ed that Monopoly‘s buy­ers were moti­va­ted by their know­ledge of the game and not by its asso­cia­ti­on with Par­ker Brothers.