Are there ways to protect intellectual property without getting a patent? How? 7 Answers as of August 31, 2015

I work for an after school program, with elementary age students. As such, I must plan various projects and activities which will both entertain and educate children. I recently designed a chemistry/science based board game, complete with question cards and a game board. Please understand - this is NOT a preexisting game which I modified - I designed and created an ORIGINAL playing board and personally thought up the 70+ questions on the game cards myself. It can be played with 2 to 6 players and is simple enough for a kindergartner to win, yet challenging enough to hold the attention and interest of a 5th grader (not an easy feat!).

It has been several months since I first introduced the children to this game and they still ask to play it during free time at the program. Because it has been such a hit, I am considering possibly approaching some of the better known game making companies (Milton Bradley etc.) about buying it.

Here is my question:

How do I protect the design and concept from these big companies once I've presented it to them? Meaning, how can I keep them from stealing my idea and marketing it as their own? I am a single mother with very limited financial resources, thus the patent process (which is lengthy and expensive) really isn't an option for me. What other means can I use to protect my intellectual property?

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Sebby Law Office
Sebby Law Office | Jayne Sebby
If you are employed by the company and you invented this game in the regular course of your duties, then the game probably belongs to your employer. You won't be able to claim the game as your own without the permission of the company. And games are usually copyrighted rather than patented. Check with the company and see if it is interested in marketing the game and splitting the proceeds with you.
Answer Applies to: Nebraska
Replied: 8/31/2015
Gerald R. Black, Esq.
Gerald R. Black, Esq. | Gerald R. Black
The only way to protect inventions other than Patents is to keep them secret. The formula for Coca-Cola was kept secret for more than 100 years. This will not work for your board game. Patents form an excellent means to protect gaming technology. Charles Darrow filed a Patent Application for a new game, "Monopoly", in August of 1935. His Patent issued by the end of the year. When his Patent expired in 1952, his company had a Trademark on the name, and Copyright protection for the board design and the gaming materials which extend beyond the life of the Patent. This is a great Business Plan to emulate. You would be wise to seek the assistance of Patent Counsel. I hope that this helps.
Answer Applies to: Michigan
Replied: 8/25/2015
Eminent IP, P.C.
Eminent IP, P.C. | Paul C. Oestreich
You should seek a copyright registration for your board game, and a trademark for any clever name you may have coined to call your game. Prior to disclosing your game to the big board game companies you will want to enter into a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). The NDA will give you an action in contract if the game company tries to do an end run around you. The difficulty you will encounter is that the big board game manufacturers may not be willing to enter into a NDA with you if they even talk to you at all. Some of these companies may simply refuse to review outside-developed game disclosures. But, you are well-advised to seek the counsel and representation of an intellectual property attorney that is familiar with copyright and licensing to further explore your options.
Answer Applies to: Utah
Replied: 8/25/2015
Michael M. Ahmadshahi
Michael M. Ahmadshahi | Michael M. Ahmadshahi, Ph.D., Esq.
Both copyright registration which is inexpensive and patenting which can be expensive can be used to protect the game. However, copyrighting the game does not provide nearly as much protection as patenting does. If cost is an issue, you can file an inexpensive provisional patent application and then contact the big companies and discuss your game to see if they are interested in buying or licensing the idea from you. Furthermore, you should file your provisional application as soon as possible because there is only a 12 month grace period to file the application from the date you first introduced the game to your students.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 8/25/2015
Microtechnology Law & Analysis | Daniel Flamm
1. Register a copyright for the design (artistic appearance) 2. File a design patent (you should engage a patent attorney to help you) 3. You may be able to apply for a utility patent as well (e.g. as method/device to teach chemistry) 4. Obtain a well drafted non-disclosure and right derivative rights agreement before disclosing anything substantive about the game (a good patent attorney can help you do this) 5. Register a trademark if you have a great name/logo for the game 6. Engage an attorney to represent you in the negotiations (can be same as the patent/copyright attorney). This should get you started. Good luck.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 8/25/2015
    Law Office of Kirk Buhler
    Law Office of Kirk Buhler | Kirk A Buhler
    The patent process is the best option for you. Go to your local library and check-out a book on patenting your invention. You will then need to only pay the government fees. Start with a Provisional application. The Micro-Entity filing fee for a provisional application is only $65. This will give you one-year of patent pending status. Once you are patent pending try to sell your invention. Your other option (not as good) is to copyright your board, instructions, documents and questions. A copyright is for the "artistic expression" and is used for pictures, songs, books and other written material. The government fee is around $50 and is good for the life of the creator plus some years after death.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/25/2015
    Banner & Witcoff, Ltd. | Ernie Linek
    You are right - patent protection is costly and takes time. You might be able to register aspects of the game in the US Copyright Office - www.copyright.gov. Here is what the site says about protection of board games: Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author's expression in literary, artistic, or musical form. Material prepared in connection with a game may be subject to copyright if it contains a sufficient amount of literary or pictorial expression. For example, the text matter describing the rules of the game or the pictorial matter appearing on the gameboard or container may be registrable. If your game includes any written element, such as instructions or directions, the Copyright Office recommends that you apply to register it as a literary work. Doing so will allow you to register all copyrightable parts of the game, including any pictorial elements. When the copyrightable elements of the game consist predominantly of pictorial matter, you should apply to register it as a work of the visual arts. The deposit requirements for copyright registration will vary, depending on whether the work has been published at the time of registration. If the game is published, the proper deposit is one complete copy of the work. If, however, the game is published in a box larger than 12" x 24" x 6" (or a total of 1,728 cubic inches) then identifying material must be submitted in lieu of the entire game. (See "identifying material" below.) If the game is published and contains fewer than three three-dimensional elements, then identifying material for those parts must be submitted in lieu of those parts. If the game is unpublished, either one copy of the game or identifying material should be deposited.
    Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
    Replied: 8/25/2015
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