Here, we have put together some information and advice about intellectual property rights for games developers. Why do you need to keep track of patents, trademarks, designs and copyright?
Names of games and studios
A well thought out name is always a good investment. Keep in mind that the studio name should work well with both your current and future games. Therefore, do not choose the same name for your studio as your game if you want to release more games in the future. Many games become more known than the studio name. Make sure you do not get too close to or infringe anyone else’s trademark when you choose a name.
Fictitious and associative names are spacious and good if the game develops and changes character. They can be perceived as more exciting than clear and concrete names and thus put the gaming company on the map. Invented and associative names can often be trademark registered and there are good chances of finding an available domain.
Domain names and trademarks
Obtain a domain name for your game at an early stage, as it will probably become the most important interface for knowledge dissemination and marketing. The domain name should work internationally and in many different languages, and be easy to remember. You will probably use the same name for your domain as for your trademark. When you obtain a domain name, you should therefore:
- have investigated whether it is also possible to register the trademark name and vice versa.
- register the trademark name at the same time. This obviously also applies when you obtain a domain name and register a trademark for your studio.
- protect your names in social media.
Register your trademark
Make sure you register your trademark in your intended markets before you start to build too much of your business around it. Your users will help to build your trademark. To safeguard this value, it is vital that you register a trademark for your game at an early stage. You will then have proof that you own the exclusive rights to the trademark.
Trade secrets, NDA and collaborations
You should think carefully about both what you tell and consider showing only minor parts of the game idea and graphics. You need a Non-Disclosure-Agreement, NDA, if you tell about your gaming idea before it has reached the market. This may involve discussions with future employees, consultants, publishers and investors.
It is useful to know that investors and others in similar roles are reluctant to sign non-disclosure agreements at an early stage in a process, as doing so could jeopardise their future investments.
It is also widely known that it is relatively rare for ideas to be completely unique. It is the actual execution of the idea which is distinctive and unique. You should therefore be cautious about presenting your graphics and your characters until you have established a non-disclosure agreement.
Feedback from users
The advantage of getting help from users and gaming communities is that you get rapid feedback and free marketing. Just make sure you have protected your assets before you do this, so that it is you and no one else who gains through your success.
Register design - protect main characters
Obtaining design protection for your game’s main characters can be a good investment. With this design protection as proof, you can enforce your rights to your characters and figures in the event of a dispute over infringement or plagiarism regarding the appearance and design of your game, characters or other design aspects. You can also obtain design protection for your game’s logotype.
The role of the publishers
Publishers play an important role in the games industry. They publish and market games and invest in projects and games developers. Here you can read what is important to consider when entering into a collaboration. Copyright issues are especially important to consider.
Copyright in games development
The copyright protects the design of the various parts of the game, but not the idea itself. A game often contains many different parts which can be protected by copyright:
- Program code is protected as a literary work. Program code means a series of instructions which makes a computer work in a particular way and covers both the source code and the object code. It does not matter what medium the program code is stored on.
- Preparatory design material, such as a storyboard.
- Other documentation produced before and during the creation of the game.
- Images and figures can be protected as works of art.
- Music used in the computer game can be protected as musical works.
- Film sequences used in the game can be protected as cinematographic works.
- Databases used in the game can be covered by the copyright’s database protection.
Who owns the copyright?
Copyright falls to the person or party that created the work’s program code, image or music. If several people were involved in the creation process, you will share the copyright to the work. There are exceptions in connection with employment relationships. Remember that special provisions apply concerning agreements regarding copyright. It is often a complicated area. If you are unsure of anything, seek legal assistance.
Patents for computer games
In Sweden, it is not possible to obtain a patent for something that solely consists of program code. However, there may be technical functions in your game for which you can register a patent.
Make an intellectual property strategy
Having a carefully considered intellectual property strategy is particularly important in innovative games companies where the entire value of the company often consists of ideas which arise out of creativity and innovation. Here are some examples of key assets which should be covered by an intellectual property rights strategy:
All agreements that the company has signed, trademark names, logotypes and domain names for games products or studio, designs used in game products, games concepts, scripts and storyboards, sketches, films and music, copyrights, inhouse-developed technology and trade secrets.
If someone wants to buy out your business, it is important that you have identified and prepared an inventory of all intangible asset so that you can calculate the value of the business. An intellectual property strategy will increase the financial value of your business in the event of its sale.
Intellectual property rights for games developers has been created together with the members of the Swedish Games Industry.