Can You Trademark a Board Game?
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. Let’s walk through the options.
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. For example, “MONOPOLY” is a registered trademark from Hasbro, covering a line of board games. Any of the names, words, or phrases that you use to distinguish your game can be protected with trademarks. These trademarks will not prevent the names and slogans from being used in everyday speech, but it will prevent market competitors from using your name or logo to market their products.
If you trademark your board game’s name or slogan, it will not prevent another company from producing a similar game, as trademarks do not cover the specifics of a product. There are additional legal protections that you can apply for if you wish to protect the layout of your game board, or the mechanics of the game, but trademark registration will only cover the name, logo or slogan that you associate with the board game itself.
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 on a bit, because there appears 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. Items like the rules of the game, instructions, and images in the board game design (what the Copyright Office refers to as “pictorial matter”) can be eligible for copyright protection.
A patent, which we expand upon here, is a document that grants the ownership rights of an invention to the inventor or another party.
For game developers, this is generally going to be limited to the game mechanics. A goos example is the patent from the 1950’s covering the gaming apparatus used in Scrabble. If you create a game that isn’t introducing a new mechanic that hasn’t been used in any other games, a patent probably isn’t going to be of much use.
Given the above, most game developers are likely going to want to explore a combination of trademark registration around the name and logo of the game, and copyright registration for any character images, the text of the game rules, etc. The application process for registration can be a bit confusing. However, we’re here to help you register your marks with the U.S. patent and trademark office. Getting trademark protection for your game name, logo, and potentially slogan is a great first step in making sure that game is as safe as it can be in the marketplace.