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Patents...

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Anonymous

Ok... I've read a few of the postings on patents and why or why not to pursue one for a game. But I would like to open up this topic for a broader discussion, and hopefully get some input from some of the more veteran game designers.

The reason for my opening the topic is this...

I've got an idea for a game that is so far 2 years in research and development. The concept of the game is excellent and I believe (as many of my beta-testers do (after having signed non-disclosure forms)) that the game has tremendous upside potential.

For the game development, I am ready to have the parts of the game (cards, pieces, board, box, etc) produced or purchased. But I am reluctant to make that step in fear that the concept of the game will be compromised. (the concept is unique and exceptional).

I have a patent attorney ready to do the work, but will require a rather princely sum!!!

Do I proceed with the production of the game prior to the patent? Do I wait and do the patent first? Do I forget about the patent altogether?

Experienced designers... Thoughts please!!!

Scurra
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Re: Patents...

yzguy wrote:
But I am reluctant to make that step in fear that the concept of the game will be compromised. (the concept is unique and exceptional).

My feeling is that if the concept is indeed "unique and exceptional" then you won't need to patent it since the very existence of the game (even as a prototype) will serve to demonstrate your innovation. However, the number of "unique and exceptional" concepts in this industry can be counted on the fingers of one hand :)
If the game then takes off, a patent is worth considering since it becomes likely that the concept will be "borrowed". But this has happened so rarely that the cost of patenting the concept strikes me as being liable to consume more money than you will ever get back in protecting your design.
Obtaining a patent is also far more difficult than you might consider. For instance, Wizards of the Coast obtained a patent on a number of aspects of Trading Card Games. However, many of these aspects only apply to certain specific actions and/or terminology, and not to the general concept (e.g. calling your draw deck a "library" is covered, but possibly not having a personal draw deck in the first place - although I may be wrong.)

I'm not a lawyer, and I'm not a published designer either, so feel free to ignore these remarks. I do feel that pursuing a patent would be a huge expense with an almost certainly negligible return.

Anonymous
Patents...

Once an idea is put to paper, it is technically copyrighted, its then just a metter of proving it in court if it ever comes up. You can even put a little (c) next to the title :D But the (R) needs to be paid for.
Actually though, I'd like to throw in my thoughts here. I think protecting your idea overall is great, but minor aspects, such as WotC copyrighting the term "Library" as your draw deck seems ridiculous to me. For example, no one else can "tap" their cards, so games end up saying stupid crap like "pivot". Really, how detrimental would it be to WotC if I made a card game and called my draw deck the library. All that would do is simplify the industry. People who know card games would then know what I was talking about. I seriously doubt WotC would lose any money.
Protecting your idea as a whole, GREAT, because, dammit, it was your idea. But over-using copyrights is just stifling the industry and giving way to some pretty crappy games. And I don't know about everyone else, but not only do I make games, I occasionally like to play one or two, and it sucks that I only have a handful of decent choices out there.

Just my .02

doho123
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Patents...

I would not bother with patenting rules. However, if there is truly some unique mechanical aspect to the parts, then it might (MIGHT) be worth it.

However, you should not be afraid of any idea of yours being compromised from any responsible parts manufacturer/printer. They have no idea/don't care how the various peices of something work when put together, and they are usually working on various countless other projects. Also, an reputable sub-contractor never go off and hand over parts to a competing end client. They want your business; and the last thing they want to become known as is a snitch within any given industry.

Brykovian
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Patents...

Krosse ... just be careful to not mix up the definitions behind copyrighting and patenting. You can copyright the physical delivery of a creative work, but you cannot copyright the idea itself. That's where the patents come in. For example, my Keeps & Moats Board can be copyrighted in the ways that I've already produced it (electronic graphics, and physical prototype) ... but someone else could take the definition of what a "Keeps & Moats Board" *is*, and make their own. If, however, I patented the design of the board, then others would have to gain permission from me before producing their own version of that type of board.

From what I understand, for most games, you'd really have to get a couple different patents -- one (or more) for the physical components used in the game, if they are a unique thing, and then one (or more) for the *rules* of the game ... the mechanics, etc., around how those components are used.

In my opinion (I'm also not a published designer -- except for the stuff I self-publish -- so take this for what you may), it will only pay to patent a game's components or rules if you are going mass-market through one of the big companies that does mass-market so well. If you are dealing with a niche game, then it will probably cost you more for the patent work than you are likely to recover through earnings.

From your description, yzguy, you may very well be heading down the mass-market route ... in which case, you may wish to discuss this with someone who works in that market -- either with one of the big companies, or (probably better yet) an agent/rep who deals with the big companies.

-Bryk

Anonymous
Patents...

There seem to be some serious misconceptions here about patents and copyright. Now, I am not an expert, but I do hold a number of patents, and have therefore had some experience with this.

Firstly, you should not confuse patents and copyright. Copyright, as FL quite rightly points out, protects the physical embodiment of some work, not the underlying idea. Most countries grant copyright under common law without the author of the work applying for anything. The US also has a system of registration for copyright which provides sepate protection under specific statutes.

Patents do not protect ideas either, they protect inventions or designs. There are a number of different forms of patent which have various different purposes. The strongest form of patent is a utility patent. In order to be granted a utility patent you have to show that the work is novel, inventive and useful. A mathematical theorem cannot be patented and until quite recently, neither could computer programs. I suspect you might have trouble obtaining a separate patent for the rules of a game. You would ususally patent some physical componentry and rules which when considered together could satisfy the requirements of novelty, inventivness and utility. Often it is sufficient, and probably more powerful to patent just the key inventive element of the game.

Some of the other forms of patent such as Design Patents (in the US) and Innovation Patents (in Australia) are worth investigating for a quicker cheaper form of protection with weaker novelty and inventiveness requirements.

One thing to remember if you are going to patent something is that in many parts of the world, if you publish it, you cannot subsequently patent it. In the US if you publish it, you have a 12 month grace period in which to lodge a patent. A number of countries are now adopting a similar grace period.

Patenting is also very expensive. This is especially so as you will need to patent separately in each jurisdiction in which you require protection. Typically, over the lifetime of a patent, it will cost you between $15,000 and $100,000 depending on the number of countires you wish to gain protection in.

I would agree with FL that patenting is only likely to be of value if you are going to be selling in large volume, and even then it's value is often questionable.

DonB

Anonymous
Patents...

I know the difference between patent and copyright, I apollogize, I did also realize that as I was writing the reply. One thing I would like to add, as far as copyrights go, many people simply title their game mechanics and copyright it as a whole. For example, the "d20 System" and White Wolf's "Storyteller's System". This then groups all of the mechanics and its finally up to the court to decide whether or not someone has infringed upon it.
NOTE: For the most part, copyrights are primarily intended to scare off people who would take the idea, the legal mumbo jumbo is, in the end, pointless. Patents, however, are very serious (which is probably why they cost so much).

Anonymous
Patents...

If the d20 system is only protected by copyright, then if I create a system with exactly the same mechanics and change the verbal description of it and the the names (if they are protected by trademark), then there is not a court in the world that would find against me. This is exactly why copyright is not useful for protecting the mechanism in most games.

If on the other hand a game system is protected by a patent then the only way to avoid infringing it is to make a system which is fundamentally different. However the weakness of patents is that they often have to be made fairly specific to a particular embodiment in order to meet the novelty requirments. If someone can vary one or more of the essential elements of the system and achieve the same end then they may not be considered to be infringing - especially if that change adds something useful to the system.

Anonymous
Patents...

It has been an interesting discussion thus far. I did know and understand the difference between patents, copyrights, trademarks beforehand. What I was hoping to get was a definitive answer on whether getting a patent was worth the cost and whether or not it would protect the concept of the game.

What I've gleamed so far from the discussion is that most feel it is NOT worth the cost. Unless the game is mass-produced.

For the game that I've designed, it falls in the genre of "Parlour" games (ie: Taboo, Pictionary, Outburst, etc.). And I do see it as eventually being a mass-produced game - though I will likely self-produce in the beginning.

Note: the primary concept of the game is - i feel - novel enough to warrant a patent. I've done several hours of research at the USPTO (patent and trademark office) and have only discovered one game patent that is close in idea - though fundamentally different in delivery.

Also, at the suggestion of one of the earlier replies to my initial post, I have contacted one of the game reps and presented this same question to them (patent or not?). As soon as I hear back from them, I will post there advice here as well.

Thanks all for contributing to the discussion.
Guy

Brykovian
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Patents...

yzguy wrote:
Also, at the suggestion of one of the earlier replies to my initial post, I have contacted one of the game reps and presented this same question to them (patent or not?). As soon as I hear back from them, I will post there advice here as well.

Much appreciated!! :)

-Bryk

FastLearner
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Patents...

I look at it this way: you have no way of knowing whether or not your game will truly take off, if it will simply do ok, or if it will flop. Trust me when I say that the fact that a lot of people think it's really great does not mean anyone will buy it, unfortunate as that may be.

So I think: I can spend $x,000 on patentng the game or I can spend the same $x,000 on marketing the game. Which is more likely to make money and encourage success of the game. Knowing that I have a year to file for my patent (even if I release it publically for sale, though patent pending status is a good thing), I'm nearly positive that the $x,000 is more likely to be well spent in marketing.

And the more I think about it, the more I wonder what good a patent will really do, especially compared to marketing money. Trivial Pursuit is obviously a great success story, but while they did eventually get a design patent on the pie-slice and wagon-wheel pieces, they had no patents going in and they never needed them. Did other people copy what they did? You bet. Was anyone else nearly as successful? Not even close. They were first to market, worked hard to get the word out, and did extremely well. Nothing about their system (beyond the physical pieces) is patented but it hasn't hurt them one bit.

I figure unless I've got something truly groundbreaking -- I mean truly, like Magic the Gathering -- then a patent is likely a waste of money. Everyone is so full of darned good ideas that they'd usually just as soon make money with their own cool concept than by trying to copy mine.

To sum: I can think of only a very few cases where the money would be better spent on a patent than on marketing (as long as you're going to spend the money anyway).

Anonymous
Agent response...

Well, the concensus is in. Recieved replies from a couple of agents, and it seems the patent idea is not really the way to go.

The comments from the agents were basically... Unless the concept is so novel, and I'm going straight down the licensing track and targeting the big game companies, a patent won't do a whole lot for me. Also, agents routinely use non-disclosure agreements when presenting a game to a company, thus offering some protection there.

Thanks all for the input.
Guy

Anonymous
Patents...

Just last year I wrote my 60th game that has hit publication...

...and I own no patents.

For those who think D20 is unique... I'd only like to say that "calling it D20" probably did more to dilute their patent (and for the matter trademark, although thats another can of worms) rights than it did to preserve them. Naming it "D20" insinuates that the entire mechanic revolves around a D20 - that such is the unique game aspect mechanically... and the use of a D20 is a LONG way from unique in gaming. It hasn't really been unique since about 1972 (with the advent of D&D).

The best protection you can get is to become known for a given work. I do have copyrights, registered, on all of my IPs... BUT
It does me far MORE good to walk into court with 100 fans and 30 industry professionals behind me that will vouch that,

"Oh yeah, Chris is the guy that wrote Fuzzy Heroes, and [sic] this is what its about. This Furry Warriors game is an obvious rip-off."

XXOOCC

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