- 1 Two Types of Patents: Design and Utility
- 2 What’s Patentable: The Four Categories
- 3 Design Patents for Sports and Games
- 4 Utility Patents for Sports and Games
- 5 It Must Be Unique
- 6 What is Different “Enough”?
- 7 Patents Alone Won’t Tell You Anything
- 8 A Former U.S. Patent Examiner Interprets Your Search
Did you create a game or sport, and are wondering if it can be protected with a patent?
Sports, board games, card games, and other types of games all have the potential to be patentable. In fact, our firm once worked with a client who got a patent on a unique chess move – and that was a single move, not even an entire game!
Two Types of Patents: Design and Utility
To understand if and how your game or sport might be patentable, it first helps to understand that there are two types of patents for which you might apply: a utility patent or a design patent.
A design patent protects the appearance of an invention.
A utility patent protects the way an invention functions.
Depending on your invention, it might be eligible for just a design patent and not a utility patent, or vice-versa. However, it could be eligible for both a design patent and a utility patent.
What’s Patentable: The Four Categories
It also helps to understand that there are four categories of ideas/inventions that are considered patentable according to U.S. patent law.
In order for your idea or invention to be considered for a patent, it must qualify as at least one of the following:
- A machine (like an engine)
- An article of manufacture (anything that can be manufactured)
- Composition of matter (like a chemical mixture)
- A method or process (a way of doing something)
Most sports and games qualify as either articles of manufacture or methods/processes.
Design Patents for Sports and Games
Your game or sport might be eligible for a design patent if it includes components that look completely unique.
For example, suppose you created a sport that involves kicking an object around a field, the way a ball is kicked in soccer. You designed the kickable object. It isn’t round like a ball. Instead, it has a wildly unusual shape.
You could apply for a design patent on that kickable component because of its unique appearance. A design patent would prevent anyone else from trying to copy you by making or selling a kickable component shaped like yours.
The same goes for components of a board game, like the game pieces, dice, cards, etc. If the components are so unusual that nothing like them exists, you might be able to protect them with a design patent.
In the four categories of patentable things, they would be considered an article of manufacture.
Utility Patents for Sports and Games
Your game or sport might be eligible for a utility patent depending on whether it’s played in a completely new and unique way.
Remember, a utility patent protects the way an invention functions. So, how does your game function? It’s probably made up of specific steps and rules.
Those steps and rules could be patentable. In the four categories of patentable things, they would be considered a method or process.
A utility patent would prevent a competitor from trying to copy the way your game or sport is played.
It Must Be Unique
In order to get a patent on a sport or game, it must be unique.
For example, suppose you invented a board game for your grandchildren. You drew a game board with a path that has a start and a finish, and steps in between. The player rolls the dice and advances along the path. The first player to get to the finish line wins.
Rolling dice, taking steps along a path, and trying to finish first is the basic idea behind hundreds of years of board games. You won’t get a utility patent on that game, because it’s not original.
However, if you got really creative and came up with all kinds of crazy things that could happen to the player along the path – things that don’t occur in any other game – your game might be eligible for a utility patent based on your unique set of steps and rules.
In a physical sport, the same idea applies.
For example, the idea of getting a ball from one place to another is the basis for a long list of sports. In itself, that’s not a patentable concept.
But if you created a set of completely original rules about how the ball must be carried and passed, how the playing field is shaped and divided, how the game is won, etc., you might be eligible for a utility patent in the category or methods or processes.
Uniqueness is key. Your game or sport must be different enough from what already exists to qualify for patent protection.
What is Different “Enough”?
There may be games and sports out there that are similar to yours. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get a patent.
Before you apply for a patent on your sport or game, you first need to have a patent search conducted. A patent search can show you what sports or games have already been patented that may be the same or similar to yours.
Patents Alone Won’t Tell You Anything
Law firms and other companies offer patent searches. However, the results of a search may be meaningless to you without legal interpretation.
Patent search results are essentially copies of patents, and patents are not written in everyday, conversational English. They can be highly technical and use legal language that might not make sense to non-lawyers.
Additionally, the patents themselves probably won’t tell you if you have a good chance of winning your own patent.
You might even see a patent for a game or sport that looks identical to yours and immediately give up hope, assuming the idea has been taken.
Meanwhile, a savvy patent attorney could tell if the patent was not well-crafted and did not provide the right protection, giving you an opportunity to step in and claim that protection for your own invention.
This is why it’s so important to get more from a patent search than a stack of patents.
A Former U.S. Patent Examiner Interprets Your Search
Our law firm’s patent searches all come with a post-search consultation with a former examiner from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). At the USPTO, the examiners are the folks who decide whether an application will be issued a patent.
We have three former USPTO examiners on our staff, and they’re the ones who consult with our clients after a patent search. You can’t get better insight into the patentability of your game or sport than what a former Patent Office examiner can offer!
If you have questions about patent searches or any other aspect of patenting a board game, sport, or other type of game, reach out to us for a 100% FREE and CONFIDENTIAL consultation. When you have a moment today, call 1-877-PAT-PROF (1-877-728-7763). We specialize in working with individual inventors and small start-ups. We’re here to answer your questions and empower you to make genuinely smart decisions.
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