Can you trademark a board game?

While board games do not qualify for trademarks from the USPTO in and of themselves, you can trademark the name, logo, or slogan that you use to identify and sell your game.

This information was provided by our founding attorney, Xavier Morales, Esq. 

trademarking board games

Intellectual Property Rights for Board Game Creators

For any board game creator, intellectual property protection is going to be extremely important. But what do you need? Copyrights? Trademarks? Patents? It can often be confusing, especially for first-time game designers. Understanding the process and the various intellectual property rights, such as trademarks for game names or design patents for original game elements, is crucial.

Trademarks in Board Games

While board games do not qualify for trademarks from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the trademark application process allows you to protect the name, logo, and slogan of your board game as a valuable asset. Some of the best-known board games are protected. For example, “MONOPOLY” is a registered trademark from Hasbro, covering a line of board games, ensuring their names and symbols remain exclusive to their owner.

Copyrights and Board Game Design

As we explained in our Trademarks vs Copyrights article:

Instead of protecting a name or slogan, a copyright protects an original creative work, such as a book, a film, or a painting.

This is important to drill in a bit because there appear to be some misconceptions about the level of protection that copyright law is offering. A copyright is not going to protect game ideas. Someone else can make a game with a similar theme, and that (on its own) will not constitute copyright infringement. Just the idea or theme of the game isn't able to be protected and can be used by another game developer.

Here's a quote right from United States Copyright Office:
Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles.
However, certain aspects of a game can be protected. Copyright protection is also an option for the game board and other original components of your board game. For board game creators, this can include the board design, instructions, and even the specific versions of board games they develop (what the Copyright Office refers to as "pictorial matter"). This aspect of copyright law is crucial for safeguarding the unique visual aspects of your game. A copyright is not going to protect game ideas. However, the unique board game mechanics and board game components can be safeguarded under copyright law, offering another layer of protection in the mass market.

Patents and Game Mechanics

A patent, which we expand on here, is a document that grants the ownership rights of an invention to the inventor or another party.

For those looking to protect innovative concepts, a design patent might be a suitable option, especially for unique game mechanics. In the realm of board games, design patents can be an invaluable tool for protecting innovative board game mechanics. A good example is the patent from the 1950s covering the gaming apparatus used in Scrabble. If your game introduces a new mechanic, it may be worth pursuing a patent to secure your competitive edge in the industry.

Questions and Evidence for Trademark Rights

When pursuing trademark rights, preparing evidence of your game’s use in commerce and responding to any questions during the examination by the USPTO is part of the process. The issuance of a certificate of registration signifies the formal recognition of your trademark. Having a trademark attorney to help guide you through this process can be invaluable, especially in understanding the complexities of trademark law related to board games.

Wrapping Up

In summary, for board game creators looking to navigate trademark law and protect their creations, it is vital to understand the different types of intellectual property protections available. Our team offers comprehensive services to help with trademark registration for game names, copyright protection for original content, and patents for unique game mechanics. We will be more than happy to help you understand how to protect your board game against competitors and help launch it to market.

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Xavier Morales, Esq.

About the Author

Xavier Morales, Esq.

Mr. Morales founded his trademark law practice in January 2007 with the goal of providing intellectual property expertise to entrepreneurs and businesses around the country. Since then, he has filed more than 6,000 trademarks with the USPTO. You can learn more about Xavier here.

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