Monday, July 18, 2011

Intellectual Property Games

In the 70s and 80s Pong, Centipede, and Pac-Man held those of us admittedly old enough to remember them awestruck.  I remember sneaking into a lake-front bar and force feeding these primitive games money.  As a kid I could not imagine the advanced graphics, 3D game spaces, world-wide interactivity and other technology (i.e., intellectual property) now programmed into even simple games. 

Imagine having been in a position back then to protect ownership of the game engines, related APIs, components, and other engine features that enable today’s performance levels.  Unsurprisingly, the Patent Office database currently lists 721 published patent applications using the phrase “game engine.”  They also list 101 applications using “game engine” in the claims.  Clearly, someone is patenting game engines (e.g., the engine developers). 

But game developers can also get into the game.  More particularly, as game developers conceive of new game functionality (e.g., the advance from Pong’s 2-D game space to today’s 3-D game spaces) the programs underlying that new functionality might be patentable.  Moreover if, as a result of the new functionality, the engine or engine API must be modified those modifications might also be patentable for the game developer.  Of course, these sorts of modifications would need to meet patentability requirements (i.e. be new, non-obvious, etc).

In addition, the game developer would have to be able to describe how to program and operate the modified engine.  Even if the developer needs help programming that modification, though, the game developer might at least be a co-inventor of the idea.  In either case, the game developer (and/or his company) would be well advised to consult a patent attorney before disclosing it to others.  That way they can obtain an informed opinion of the technology’s potential patentability and ownership before making the first move with outside parties.

The author wishes to thank Todd Simmons for his valuable contributions to this article.  For more information about Todd see:

For more information about the patentability and ownership of gaming related intellectual property please see or contact us at (512) 897-0399.

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