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Avoid the expense of simple preliminary legal tasks:
Hiring an attorney can be expensive, especially for routine tasks, such as searching for pre-existing trademarks. On the flip side, doing legal work by yourself can be dangerous and costly if incorrect. Familiarizing yourself with the simple legal issues faced by game developers and giving yourself the tools necessary to do some basic research can save you a lot of time and money. These (mostly) free legal resources for game developers are a great place to start.
1) The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office:
The USPTO is the home of all United States patent and trademark registrations. Before you put a ton of work into an invention, a brand, or some other product, it is imperative that you do a search of these two databases. Doing a quick knock-out search can avoid plenty of hassle down the road.
2) Jonathan Sparks’ excellent “Save Point Law” blog:
The Save Point Law blog is a great starting point for game developers who don’t have much knowledge about the legal issues that their new businesses may be facing. There are posts about business entities, contracts, and other legal issues that use easy-to-follow examples to illustrate their points.
Save Point Law blog (he also blogs here on Gamasutra)
3) The Securities and Exchange Commission:
Any developer looking to expand their business and raise capital will eventually have to deal with securities laws. This government resource for small businesses explains the various options in an easy-to-digest format (easier than reading the regulations, anyway).
SEC’s Small Business Resource Center
4) The U.S. Copyright Office:
Similar to the USPTO linked to above, the website for the U.S. Copyright Office is a useful resource for searching copyright records. This can come in handy when licensing work from another party, in order to ensure that the party does indeed own the intellectual property rights that are being licensed.
U.S. Copyright Office
5) Your local Secretary of State’s Office:
Prior to forming a corporate entity, it is important to check the website for that jurisdiction to make sure the name you are planning, or some similar name, is not already in use. Uniqueness is a priority when developing a new company and brand, so this, coupled with the trademark search above, should be the first step in creating a new game development business. Each state should have their own search functionality; I’ve linked to California’s below.
California Secretary of State
6) The American Bar Association’s Legal Guide to Video Game Development:
This is the only resource on the list that isn’t free, but the cost is well worth it. This book is written for the non-lawyer, but includes overviews of all the topics that a game developer will encounter on their journey of game design. From their table of contents, it includes:
- Patents, Copyright and Trademarks
- Business and Finance Issues
- Risk and Insurance
- Intellectual Property Agreements
- The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
- Publishing Your Game
- Licensing and Open Source Material
Of course, some material may be out of date, as the law is always changing. For instance, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act has undergone some recent changes. Be sure to consult with an attorney prior to taking any actions.
ABA Legal Guide to Video Game Development (note: this is an affiliate link to support the site and blog)
7) My blog:
Last, but not least, make sure you keep up with my blog, which can be found either here on Gamasutra or on my own website. I will be writing at least three times a week about legal issues that game developers will face and current news stories in the game development and entertainment world. As always, before making any moves on the business end of game development, consult with your local game attorney.