Information: Board Games
There are two possible ways of obtaining protection for board games, provided they are original works. These are not mutually exclusive; a game may be covered in both ways at the same time.
Under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, protection will be available not for the idea of the game as such but for the way in which the idea is expressed – i.e. the explanation of the rules and the design of the board and any novel counters. No formalities are required to establish the copyright; it comes into existence automatically with the creation of the rules of the game and the design of the board. There is no copyright registration system in this country or in most other countries, but it is advisable to mark both the rules and the board with the copyright symbol ©, the name of the copyright owner and the year in which the game came into existence. This serves to give notice to other people that the game is copyright and may not be reproduced without permission. It is also important to mark the game in this way if there is any intention to market it in those countries (including the United States of America) where a copyright registration system does exist.
Copyright only protects the owner against direct copying – i.e. if someone else comes along later with the same idea, having thought it up themselves, there is no infringement of the earlier copyright. Similarly, if someone else were to take the idea and produce a different game based on it, there would again be no infringement of copyright.
Depositing a copy of the rules and of the drawing of the board with a responsible person, such as a solicitor or bank manager, against a dated receipt, may provide independent evidence of the date the work was created, which can be useful in the event of any later dispute about the ownership of the copyright. The same end may be achieved by the copyright owner sending a copy of the work to himself by registered post; in this case, it is important that the envelope should be kept unopened on receipt.
It may be possible to register the design of the game under the procedure established by the Registered Designs Act 1949. The Designs Registry is operated by the Intellectual Property Office. More information can be obtained at www.ipo.gov.uk or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Design registration is quite separate from copyright and gives more protection, since once a game is registered it is protected against anyone else coming up with the same idea afterwards, even if they had no knowledge of the game already registered. On the other hand, it does require the completion of registration formalities and the payment of fees.
It is vital that an application for registration should be put in hand before the design of the game is made public in any way.