A Sound Legal Strategy Can Protect Board Game Creators From Dicey Situations

Creating a board game can be a massive undertaking. From the initial idea to funding to research and development to test runs, you will spend hundreds of hours making sure you have the perfect game.  To protect your investment in that time and energy, intellectual property protection for your game can start early in your development process. While it’s a good idea to protect your creation starting early on in your process, it’s never too late to consult with an attorney and seek protection even after your product is in the market. While patents have strict deadlines to qualify for protection, trademarks and copyright do not have such restrictions.

We know there’s many steps that go into board game creation.  Consider some of the following protection strategies you could use.

Trademark Your Name and Logo

Trademark can protect the name of the game, logo, character names or terms that are proprietary and identified with your game.  Consulting with a lawyer also can prevent you from trademarking a name that is too similar to another game or product, before you invest in building a brand that you are later forced to change.  See our previous article Trademarks: Do You Know Your Rights? 

Copyright your rules and your artwork

Copyright will not protect the concept of your game, but it will protect the tangible elements of your game, like the rules, artwork, and other physical gaming components.

Trade Dress

Trade dress protects your overall presentation and packaging, preventing competitors from trying to confuse consumers into thinking their game is created or sponsored by you.  The key to trade dress protection is that the design element (or a combination of elements like colors, shapes and graphics) is so distinctive that consumers come to recognize it as signifying a particular company’s product. Think about games like Simon, Jenga, or Operation as iconic game designs.  In other words, simply by seeing the design, a potential consumer knows that brand. See our previous series of blog posts on Trade Dress. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)  

Design Patent

A design patent can be used to protect ornamental non-functional design elements.  Design patent protection will prevent others from making, selling or using your patented board design or game pieces for a period of 14 years.

NDA playtests

At some point in your game’s creation, you are going to want players to test out your game.  Having testers sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) prevents the testers from sharing or “borrowing” elements of your game for their own use. It also prevents this research and development phase being deemed a public disclosure, starting time limits for patent protection.  If any of your game testers violate the agreement, they could be liable for damages. See our previous blog post What is an NDA.

It’s easy set aside legal protections while you are busy creating your game and focused on getting it ready for it to be played by other people. Getting to it “later” may forfeit all the time you spent on developing your initial idea into rules, gameplay, and artwork. To prevent a dicey situation, contact a lawyer to create a game plan protect your board game. 

Author Bio:Tracy Jong is a patent and trademark attorney at Tracy Jong Law Firm. Tracy focuses her practice on client counseling related to patent and trademark prosecution for a range of clients including small startup companies, restaurants and bars, craft beverage companies and product manufacturers. She may be contacted at TJong@TracyJongLawFirm.com. Connect with her at: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram. Visit her website at www.TracyJongLawFirm.com.

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