Intellectual property for games and software covers the creative and artistic components that go into game design. IP rights are associated both with both the content in games and the tools people use to develop the games. Trademarks, patents, and copyrights are important IP protections for developers and other creatives.

Game Project and IP Law

Intellectual property, or IP, is the lifeblood of the games industry. IP relates to the following intangible assets:

  • Brands
  • Inventions
  • New technologies
  • Artistic works
  • Source code

IP specifically pertains to industrial design, trademarks, patents, and copyright. For instance, copyrights protect a game's software (code), sound, and artwork. Developers must secure the appropriate licenses from the copyright holder if they wish to create a new work, or derivative work, based on an existing copyrighted work. 

Trademarks protect the logos and names associated with a game and characters in it. Trademarks are used to distinguish a game from others. Patents are important for hardware manufacturers because they protect the next generation's hardware and technical solutions. They also protect unique design or inventive game play elements.

Trade secrets safeguard a company's competitive edge by keeping certain information confidential, such as the following:

  • Subscriber mailing list
  • Contacts
  • In-house development tools

If developers don't have the appropriate licensing agreements and rights in place, they might not be able to distribute their game and therefore won't be able to fully profit from their work. Developers own their intellectual property, so they have the right to sell it through licensing deals. Because their intellectual property is the foundation of their business, they must protect it.

The gaming industry changes rapidly, so it is a challenge for the law to keep up. Laws that encourage creativity and innovation may grant too much leeway in the ever-changing games arena, so proper protections might not yet exist for unforeseen situations. To make matters worse, many of these companies are global and are governed by different standards in different countries.

Traditionally, publishers were responsible for securing financing for game development. However, the roles of developers and publishers are changing due to new, emergent forms of distribution, as well as alternate funding methods, like crowdfunding, for instance.

As a result of this, intellectual property rights that were formerly owned solely by the publisher might now be shared with an investment vehicle or developer today. Because these ownership patterns are changing, it's more important than ever for developers to be aware of intellectual property issues.

IP and Software

Copyright covers most software. Software licensing agreements protect the creator's intellectual property rights and copyright by putting restrictions on the end user. Software licenses don't sell the software itself, only the use of it.

If you're thinking of becoming a software publisher, carefully consider how you'll license your software so that you keep your intellectual property rights and make money from your work. Software licenses typically come in one of the following forms:

  • Free license
  • Proprietary license
  • Open software license

An author's license specifies how the rights holder wants his or her software to be used. A developer license gives end users the opportunity to use the computer program to develop various platforms, like smart phones. Royalties must be paid when using a license, and they're usage-based payments that licensees make to the licensor as long as they use the software or application.

Usually, when someone purchases commercial software, a proprietary license is included, which gives the user permission to use the program, while the developer retains ownership of the source code and program.

An open source license permits anyone to use the program's source code. These types of licenses are usually free. They allow users to modify, redistribute, and use the code commercially without paying the original author royalties.

Without intellectual property protections, the games and software industries probably wouldn't exist. The video game industry continues to grow, and with the right protections in place, artists and creatives can profit from their hard work. Understanding how these laws work is crucial for ensuring protection of your rights. If you need help understanding these concepts, you may wish to consult with an expert in intellectual property law.

If you need help understanding intellectual property laws, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.