Do Not Get Shot by the Misuse of Intellectual Property Rights in Video Games

Video games are not just fun pastimes and a lucrative $24 billion revenue industry. They are prized assets with intellectual property rights for their unique design, art, audio and code. Some games are developed by innovative individuals, while others are licensed and owned by different parties for publicity and efficiency reasons.

An estimated 67 percent of U.S. households play video or computer games, with most of them enjoying sports or action games. With the amount of consumers and moneymaking opportunities, it is no wonder that the industry must protect its intellectual property rights and flex its legal muscles when needed.

Trademarks, copyrights, patents, trade secrets, and rights of publicity enable innovators and companies to develop new games that competitors cannot touch. Experienced video game companies and innovators know that an intellectual property attorney is key to keeping their competitive edge. From the initial stages of creating a game to staying ahead of the next “it” game or console, legal counsel is a must to defend your rights.

Trademarks protect a company from copycats that want to steal the success of a popular brand, character, title or symbol. By registering the trademark, no competitor can use the name, thus protecting the reputation and marketing efforts.

Copyright laws guard the software itself as well as the characters and icons or weapons, scenes, music, videos, pictures and dialogue. A good test for copyright infringement is to first determine whether the defendant had access to the copyrighted work and then to compare one of game A’s screenshots to game B’s screenshots. If they are qualitatively and quantitatively similar and an ordinary person would look at both and think they are copycats, then infringement will likely be found. Many software piracy cases involve this facet of the game and penalties have high monetary damages.

With the explosion of “apps” for cell phones and computers, many consumers are amazed by how some games are looking similar to each other. The developer Twisted Pixel could go after Capcom because it mimicked Twisted’s Cut the Rope game with Rope Cut and The Blocks Cometh. So far though, the developer has not pursued legal action on them. “Since we owe Capcom so much for its many contributions to all of our childhoods, we will just keep our focus on making new games,” Twisted Pixel CEO Michael Wilford told Pocket Gamer. “That way [Capcom will] have something else to use for ‘inspiration’ next year.” Capcom responded with, “We are saddened by this situation and hope to rebuild the trust of our fans and friends in the gaming community.”

Innovators and companies must look after every part of their game. Enrolling for a patent ensures the technological exclusivity and original designs for 20 years typically. Patents involve user interfaces, algorithms, scene rendering, menu, editing and display choices. For example, U.S. Patent No. 4,662,635, Video Game With Playback of Live Events, uses pre-recorded live action sequences in specific video games. The patent owner and the game company sent many cease-and-desist letters to competitors as it was the first to develop this specific technology.

Trade Secrets assist business to keep select information secret. From business and marketing plans, to customer lists, and concepts and processes to creating the software and game assets, these are critical pieces of knowledge to keep under wraps.

The Law Offices of Spotora & Associates helps many developers, distributors, and publishers in the software and computer game industry. Their managing attorney, Anthony Spotora, has more than a decade of experience as a Los Angeles intellectual property lawyer. From negotiations to licensing agreements and advising on IP laws and structuring joint ventures, his firm can assist clients in the U.S. and abroad.

Anthony Spotora is a Los Angeles entertainment lawyer and Los Angeles business attorney. To learn more, visit

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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 24th, 2011 at 12:58 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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