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Beating the dead patent horse...

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doho123's picture
Joined: 07/21/2008

As some of you don't know, I work at a small (4 people) company who's sole purpose is to come up with patentable game concepts/mechanics. However, it's for the casino industry, but I think a lot of the same issues apply.

What patenting game mechanics does is give the little guy a chance against the 800 pound gorillas in the industry. We don't exist if we have to way of protecting our ideas. Our patents let us keep our company very small while using the big guy's sales forces, hardware/software, marketing, etc. To some extent, a lot of the big guys LIKE the little patent-ing guys; this way, they can keep their focus on their game churn, while having their little associated "skunk work" companies they've signed agreements with spend the effort on the more risky search of something new. Of course, this approach is debatable with various higher ups, but there is probably some merit to it.

The casino industry is amazing in regards to stealing/copying ideas from other companies (which doesn't seem to be the case in board game world), resulting everyone doing the same product with different graphic treatments. The whole move towards video slot machines with five video reels happened because the company who created it didn't patent it; in fact, because of this, more competitors entered what was once a very narrow field. So now there are about 12 companies producing the EXACT SAME GAME with different graphic packages. So now, the "playability" of the games is reduced to who has purchased the best licensing rights to stick on the glass ("Monopoly","Wheel of Fortune","Gilligan Island","SPAM",etc). The only difference between games are the various bonus games, which companies have started to patent.

What all these bonus game patents have done is caused everyone to come up with new bonus mechanics (which then becomes further patents). So, in this case, working around pre-existing patents have probably progressed the industry into different things; the unpatented part (the base 5 reel machine) hasn't changed now in 20 years. Without the patents, every slot machine out there would have a bonus wheel on it today.

The other issue of getting a patent is how much is it worth to you in regards to profit vs. chasing infringers. In the world of board games, I don't think the churn of profits is worth patenting anything. ESPECIALLY in regards to the niche "family strategy/Eurogame" style. However, in the casino industry, the sheer amount of profits that can be gained from a truly unique patent is monstrous. The guy who came up the with patentable concept for "Triple Play Poker," by a very rough estimate, profits almost $10 million a month; and that may be LOW. The company that controls the bonus wheel patent makes on obscene amount of money on their Wheel of Fortune games a month. In these cases, it's worth the hassle of obtaining a patent and enforcing.

The problem I'm having is witht some of the nebulous patents the USPTO has given away that aren't "unobivious and unique". The fact that someone can effectively patent and bonus game system that let's you pick tiles until you get a whammy (which is previously patented) but instead of picking tiles, you are picking circles (which a newer patent was granted for) is pretty insane. Ultimately, it should be VERY HARD to get a patent on a game concept, only if it is truly unique. The real problem is that the patent office hands out the patents like candy on Halloween.

Beating the dead patent horse...

I want an equal chance to reign it in a bit and lay her to rest as well, hopefully I'm permitted.

Hey Jeff I may have been confusing a few things, and I think you showed that your points perhaps arent the most obvious as well, perhaps that mix made for us not being on the same sheet of music.

Also keep in mind I was responding and *engaging* (your term) several persons, I wasn't intentionally singling you out, I hate when people single someone out (I actually dont even look at names very much, I just grab quotes and respond).

You could easily tell from the fact that I'm a site Admin, or that I have over 1300 posts, that I am not a troll or stalker.

In all honesty, I never looked at those little icon thingys until you just said that, I had no idea.... not that an admin with 1300 posts under his belt couldnt be a stalker (in fact that may indicate a better probablity? (joking)).

That does not mean that my position is correct, of course,

True that.

not that it means we don't have fun, or joke around: quite the opposite! But maturity and polite discourse are crucial to the spirit of the conversations we're trying to have, and I encourage you to drop the ascerbic tone in favor of something more consistent with the overwhelming majority of posters here.

I will try to comply... just be aware that there are several kinds of humor in the world and I definitely never meant to be condescending, thats one thing I will stand by.

Email/Forum post interpretation is a bee-otch sometimes.

Argument by belittlement is not only logically fallacious, it violates the collegial atmosphere that we're trying to create.

I am with you on this, I never belittled anyone, my stance has been one of shock and awe and confusion... the *craziest* I got, upon reviewing why my words are being singled out over everyone elses, is when I said how dare some one make up a time frame, with a lean towards belittlement, of how long it took someone (TJ) to come up with an idea. I still feel strongly about that.

if you can patent game mechanics, you can patent the great ones and the trivial ones, and you could then force companies to pay you when they use the mechanics

The great thing here is that no one can tell me if my mechanic is a good one or a trivial to the point of judgement if it is not deserving of legal protection.

It seems to me that this scary ideal of *lets decide if something is trivial or not* will differ among the masses and is open to interpretation... although it is true that in some governments, one from the mid 1940's comes to mind, appointed powers did indeed make these sort of *eye of the beholder* calls for the people. However, unless my understanding of the current US law is incorrect, I can indeed patent an idea (which I will consider great since it's mine) that someone would have to pay me for if they want to use it. In my opinion this is so clearly fair and just.

It's not a private club, it's an online community. I've been here for 2 years and I know many of the designers, and I know their capabilities.

Well if that is indeed the case, I am impressed at the amazing amount of closeness and intimacy you have obtained with everyone via an electronic medium on this forum. I just wanted clarification, and I thank you.

Coming up with mechanics (mechanics, not finished game designs) quickly is really not that hard once you're experienced as a designer.

We simply disagree here. Coming up with a mechanic can be the most difficult thing, if you are looking to really set your game apart with something truly inventive IMO. However I also think its a great idea to take a mechanic that is normally used for something else and apply it to my own ideas in a different fashion. If that mechanic is protected, I make a choice to pay for it, or come up with something else.

The Game Design Showdown that we have every month used to occur in a chat format, and people only had 5 minutes to come up with game mechanics. Many people participated in those contests and came up with some pretty clever stuff. I suspect that there are transcripts in the archives, which you could find by doing a forum search on "Game Design Showdown".

Cool, I will check it out. However *clever stuff* in 5 minutes may be a pretty objective statement (as many of the others I have read) I hope you realize.

I have no idea how long Tom Jolly took to make his mechanic.

This is what I consider a very good answer to my question, as it is one based in reality. No one except Tommy J knows how long it took him to come up with it. Someone said it took him 30 seconds in a condescending manner, and I just thought it was so wrong to go there.

I'm saying that given that it is possible to create mechanics simply and easily,

Is it perhaps possible (with all respect Jeff) that your own amazing gift, and from what you say a power that some of the others (everyone but me) on the forum share with you as well, for creating mechanics simply and easily in 30 seconds or less has maybe distorted your perception of how long it takes others?

Additionally, perhaps my own perception may be distorted as well, as I have tossed out so many 30 second ideas that were trivial, it isn't funny. In fact if i do come up with an idea in 30 seconds, its almost immediatley disregarded.

It's just such an objectional thing in my eyes I guess, as so many of the recent observations I see seem to be.


I don't think they rise to the level of what should be entitled to intellectual property protection.

The level? Who's level? This is so fascinating to me.

In a room of designers, game consumers and non designer/consumers we would get such a mixed bag of results if they were to vote on whether a mechanic is trivial or up to (someones) standards and therefore entitled to protection.

Personally, I just dont think i want someone judging me on my ideas and of there eligibilty. I want to protect my ideas if *I* think they are good, not if *you* (manner of speaking) think they are deserving. Make any sense at all?

This is perhaps that is the meat of my hang up.


It wasn't very complicated.

Well my comment of confusion wasnt on the complexity of the example mind you, more so on the stance of it.


Let's say designers A and B design games that use a similar mechanic. At present, if designer A's game is first to market, he gains an advantage, but designer B's game isn't precluded from being published simply by the existence of A's game. In a model where patenting mechanics became commonplace, designer A, by patenting the mechanic, could prevent B from publishing. This could happen even if A was not ready to sell his game and B was. I'm saying that the current situation is preferable to the latter, in my opinion.

I do understand your examples, and I disagree. I prefer the second model as it fits with what is normal for the economic model of competitive business and its history that I am used to in the country where I live....

Again, If I hear a killer riff in a song by a major recording artist, that I wrote and have used in a song in my garage band for years.... I have absolutley no claim on that riff and could not use it or would have to pay for it.

Perfect and obvious business sense in my opinion.

It's almost as if you're not reading a word that I say.

The feeling is mutual.

I hope I was able to tighten it up a bit in your eyes for my response here.

In the example I described, I talked about a game company that is putting out a game with a similar mechanic to one of mine. I think that is perfectly fair. What I wouldn't like is if they were allowed to patent their mechanic and then prevent me from selling my game some day.

Ok just to be clear, I understand you here and I have a different opinion, and simply listed my views... Example again, I have a great concept for a vitamin that helps lower cholestoral... but I have to pay the guy with the patent on ingestible gel caps. Wish i thought of it first, but alas, Perfect business sense IMO.

but I dont remember feelings of bitterness and anger that followed.

Nor do I.

ok, cool.

You seem to have this notion that the only people entitled to an opinion on this issue are self-publishers, since they are personally invested financially in their game. Why can't a seeking-to-be-published designer, or even a not-seeking-to-be-published-designer, have an opinion?

Your assumption is wrong... I harbor no problem with opinions, in fact we can keep pumpin them out all day long, as the self-publisher keeps pumpin out his games to the masses.

I was just confused as to where some of the opinons were coming from so to speak... I am over the shock now and hopefully easing back on my passion, or whatever was being wrongly mistaken as malice intent.


But that's just my point; I don't think that I'm entitled to be fairly compensated by Days of Wonder simply because we both have a game with a traitor mechanic: their mechanic didn't derive from mine, and mine didn't derive from theirs. Why should I be able to stop them from publishing? "It's just business" doesn't cut it.

It doesn't cut it?

Well, ok, but the burden of proof isnt really on me, I think what you described above is exactly how it should work to a 'T'. I agree with it. Therefore I have nothing to explain or prove... "its a good system imo" should suffice. I have done my best to give dozens of examples to highlight where I am coming from and how I feel, though ill recieved.


You're proposing a change in the way that the game business works.

Whoa... you lost me here for sure. What am I proposing? I like exactly how it is right now unchanged. If I come up with a great mechanic I can go protect it and I will get compensated for the great idea I protected under law. Its like a warm and fuzzy bliss of a perfect system... in my opinion of course.

It's not the same thing at all. Domain names fall under the category of trademark/brand name kind of considerations. By registering "", you're not preventing the other company from doing business; they simply need to get a different name so as not to infringe on your trademark. Patenting of game mechanics would have a different effect: it would affect the product itself.

Ok, I'll give you that... it's just that sometimes products and names and doing business are very tightly interwoven... but it may not have been the best direct example I agree.

I'm just echoing FastL's cry for logic here.

I'm afraid that you are not heeding that cry yourself.

I felt I was. The areas where you say your thoughts were slightly flawed may have drawn my deepest confusion though, as well as the fact that I was not just refering ot your posts in my responses and need for understanding.

why changing to a world where patented game mechanics were commonplace would be preferable to the current situation, where this is rare.

Interesting. I never said we should change to a world where patented game mechanics are commonplace, yet you mentioned this to me twice.... again, expressing ideas in this medium can be difficult, I fualt no one, just as I do not attempt to sense condescending tones or types of humor... but I'm pretty good at reading through the fluff (mine included) to see the nuts and bolts of a post I guess, so it just doesnt bother me that much.

I guess if patenting mechanics is officialy deemed rare than I may not understand what this thread about ot begin with... just the fear of it being common?

I dont know if its rare or common myself, I simply think if someone has the resources to patent an idea, they go and do it, if it hasnt already been done. It may happen alot, it may happen a little, not sure how I would track it or why, as long as I am not using someone elses idea without permission, and as long as someone else is not using mine.


I'm just not sure what other measure there is of determinng who legally secured an idea first... I dont get it... I guess we could give gold medals to the third place winners too... or ask the runner in the lead to not cross the finish line yet because other people have a chance of crossing it too?

This is indeed one of the flaws in my argument, that I'm seeking a model of patent protection that protects you from stealing but doesn't force someone with a non-derivative but similar idea to go through you to benefit from his idea, and it's hard to identify how that would work.

Fair enough, and probably what I was focusing on the most concerning your stance/comments FWIW.

But aside from trying to make me look foolish, I don't think you've actually engaged my point.

Apologies, I don't know where I did that, or why you felt that, it was not intentional and I publically apologize here and now, never wanted to make you feel foolish. I am very sincere in this, and feel badly, as my original spark to post on this at all was that someone dared to make Tommy J look foolish by saying his mechanic was trivial, I dont want to be accused of the same.

I also never felt the need to engage your point, only a slight urge to ask if you realize that what you are so against is what is already in place and *the norm* - but thats about it.


I claim that if I didn't borrow any aspect of an idea from Joe, then it is somewhat unfair for Joe to be able to prevent me from using my idea.

Good luck with this delimma. I of course don't see it a as bad thing or unfair or incorrect, but I gather you probably realize my opinion on this by now.

Well, if you're going to hang around here, better get used to this kind of criticism! Speaking from experience, I can guarantee that you're going to receive it!

Bring it on... but be aware of the huge difference here... I am actually physically present on this forum to defend my ideas when ripped a new one (if my mouth isnt gagged of course)... Tom J is not.


Isn't that the equivalent of going to a book signing and telling the author he sucked or he writes to fast (because he wrote about a story I came up with on my back porch last April!)

Not really.

mmmm... I still see it as fairly close myself.

I'm not saying that patents should be withheld from only trivial mechanics;

I'm saying that they should be withheld from all mechanics.

ahhh... now arent you the one actually proposing the change in the current system? Just asking.

as far as what you are in fact asking for... we shall agree to disagree.

Why is additional patent protection needed?

Its my right under law? Inadequete? How about I dont want someone else using my cool idea I came up with and protected?

But my point with saying that you're not entitled to protection for a trivial idea was different.

Ok, i understand your meaning now.

the idea to wipe your bottom with your right hand rather than your left, you patent it, and now everyone who does so must pay you royalties. Silly, right?

well yes.... but that trivial mechanic you use to flush your wiped on paper down the toliet is protected.

Now... how someone draws or places or taps a card in a game.... not silly to me.

In closing, my sole intention from the get go was to express my opinions and views in a colorful manner, and to understand the opinions and statements of others. I may have failed in both.

No harm meant.


VeritasGames's picture
Joined: 08/01/2008
Beating the dead patent horse...

What I think some people don't understand, who want to limit patents only to entire games, is sometimes it's only one aspect of your game that's particularly novel, and it's the aspect, rather than the game as a whole that you desperately want to protect. If your patent extends only to an entire game, rather than a specific mechanic or component within it, then people can steal the most unique parts of your game and compete with you directly using your own invention. That's precisely what a patent is designed to protect against.

I think that in this day and age, if anything, copyright law is expanding wildly, but patent law has been expanding only as follows:

a) some dumb patents have been granted that weren't deserving, and which prevent people from using very basic, fairly obvious ideas in their games; and

b) in the drug industry, when people have a patent that is about to expire, they come up with some pathetic minor variation on that patent and then file for a new patent, and try and sue people who then try to produce the thing that is no longer logically covered under patent

Patents have also become ridiculously expensive to file and maintain the annual fees on. The fees make sense for things like the casino industry, but make no sense at all for small businesses. The only reason I can think of for justifying the high costs of patents is because it is a cap on future development and people should have to pay for the privilege of stopping others from developing stuff based on the patent-holder's invention.

These are not flaws in the logical division of copyright and patent, which I believe are fine.

People who just want a special "game copyright" don't realize that either:

a) this would be nearly useless; or

b) it would require MAJOR revisions in interpretations of Constitutional law regarding patent and copyright law, and MAJOR revisions in statutory construction

I don't see anything particularly to be gained by turning copyright and patent law on their heads just for games. I do see a reason to have some patent and copyright reforms, but that's an entirely different type of proposal.

Thanks for your post. It shows the importance of having patents in some parts of the gaming industry. I, for one, appreciated it.

Yogurt's picture
Joined: 01/09/2009
Beating the dead patent horse...

VeritasGames wrote:
I, for one, appreciated it.

Lee's not the only person who was glad to hear your story, Doho. You have a fascinating job in an industry I hadn't thought much about before.

The board may just be letting the embers of this topic cool.

People are welcome to PM me about patents and games, but I think my public messages will shift back to cards and dice for a while.


Re: Beating the dead patent horse...

What all these bonus game patents have done is caused everyone to come up with new bonus mechanics (which then becomes further patents). So, in this case, working around pre-existing patents have probably progressed the industry into different things; the unpatented part (the base 5 reel machine) hasn't changed now in 20 years. Without the patents, every slot machine out there would have a bonus wheel on it today.

I think this was a point made early on by some. Excellent real world example of this ideal in motion, thanks for sharing DoHo.

The real problem is that the patent office hands out the patents like candy on Halloween.

Seems to me that would be some very expensive and time consuming candy they're handing out. ;-)

yogurt wrote:

The board may just be letting the embers of this topic cool.

More likely issuing gag orders, but its nice to see that some of us are able to continue or at least present answers to direct questions.

but I think my public messages will shift back to cards and dice for a while.

Aye lad, I think that is a good idea. I was very surprised to even see this new thread allowed to continue, and then be zapped, and then continued again.

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