you’ve created a video game. Naturally, you’re proud of the
result after months of all-nighters spent programming and debugging
the source code. Your game includes ideas, puzzles, game concepts,
and user interfaces that no game has ever had. You’ve created
artwork and graphics that are sure to enthrall even the most skeptical
of gamers. Your game is most assuredly destined to be Game of
Too bad someone stole it and published it before you
did. All your “guaranteed” profits gone in a flash.
But that’s ok, because software is or at least should be free to copy,
right? By becoming a software developer you have automatically
bought into the notion that software should be open source, right?
Who needs to be fairly compensated for their efforts when ramen noodles
are 3 for $0.99?
disagree? Ok, if you are actually upset that someone would copy
your work, and want to know how to stop them from such illicit behavior
in the future, read on. This article discusses the basic types
of intellectual property – patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade
secrets – and how to use them effectively to protect your video game.
With a little advanced planning and basic knowledge of intellectual
property, your video game will be protected … at least from a legal
copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets each serve to motivate innovators
to create new and exciting games by providing various protections for
their efforts. For example, the patent system encourages innovation
by promising inventors a short period of exclusivity if they come forward
with their inventions.
Without copyright protection, there is
little incentive for authors and artists to create new creative works,
because they naturally would be hesitant to create works that others
could copy willy nilly without compensation to the artist (those ramen
noodles sure are tasty, huh?).
Trademarks help ensure that the
name you’ve made for yourself stays yours. And finally, trade
secret law helps those who decide to keep their technology secret, like
the famously secret formula for Coca-Cola®. The discussion below
is a short walk through these forms of intellectual property.
protect the goodwill and reputation associated with your company or
video game as a brand. A trademark – any name or symbol indicative
of a source of origin of a product or service – is arguably your most
valuable business asset, and is perhaps also the most recognizable form
of intellectual property. You can hardly drive down a major road
without encountering a sign for a McDonalds® restaurant, a Coca-Cola®
soda, or Nike® shoes. Many consumers purchase goods
and services based on name recognition alone, e.g., EA or MADDEN.
are two ways to protect your trademark from being copied. The
first is through state trademark laws. Each state offers trademark
protection based on the use of the trademark in that state. The
second more common (and more effective) way is to register the trademark
with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which provides protection
throughout the United States.
Registered trademarks offer advantages
over non-registered trademarks, and allow you to use the ® symbol.
Once a trademark is registered, no other entity can use any name or
mark that is identical to or is likely to cause confusion with your
registered trademark anywhere in the U.S.
An exception arises
where the other entity proves that it was using its trade name or mark
prior to your trademark registration, in which case the other entity
might have limited rights to use their name or mark in their geographic
does this affect your video game? Your trademark serves as a source
of origin for your game. It is your reputation, your lifeblood.
You want gamers to hear your name and know that the game is going to
be phenomenal. Without trademark protection, someone else can
adopt the same name as you to produce games.
However, you have
no quality control over their games, and they could ruin your public
reputation and the goodwill you have worked so hard to create.
Trademark registration is relatively inexpensive (current registration
fee is no more than $375 per class of goods and services), and is typically
the first form of intellectual property protection any venture formally