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Re: Claims on game concepts

Matthew Palmer wrote:
>The issue was raised of the legal claim game designers have over
>implementations of their game design - beyond any copyright (reproduction of
>a description of game rules, for instance) trademarks (calling your game
>'Monopoly') or patents on the game mechanics.

Game rules are not copyrightable in the US.  (I don't have the case citation
on hand -- can someone else get it?)  They can't be trade secrets, by their
nature.  So patents are the only actual way to control game mechanics (in the

Patents on game mechanics certainly exist, and *are* enforced, and *do* give
a patent-holding game designer control over independent implementations.

The various words, pictures, and so forth used in the game may be trademarks.
(Wizards of the Coast has trademarked "tap" used to refer to turning a card
sideways to 'activate' it, for instance.)

Or they, along with the visual layout of the game, may be the subject of
'design patents' (US) or 'design rights' (UK), but I believe those have to
be registered to be valid (unlike trademarks and copyrights).  Those are
routinely used by game companies as well.

>So, what does everyone think?  Is there any branch of law which could give
>the person or company that thought up how to play a game a claim against a
>separate, not-otherwise-infringing implementation of such a game?

Almost certainly not.  I think there's a case related to Dungeons
and Dragons on this precise issue (TSR, the D&D owner, got very litigious
at one point), and someone won the right to make "D&D compatible" materials
without limitation.  (The mechanics weren't and aren't patented and the design
was different.)  I can't find the case reference but perhaps someone else can.

But beware of patented games, and proliferating trademarks.

Nathanael Nerode  <neroden at gcc.gnu.org>

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