In the Game World Imitation is Not Flattery – Its Infringement

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The number of lawsuits alleging copying of games continues to increase. In one of the latest such lawsuits, Seattle-based game developer Spry Fox filed a copyright infringement lawsuit
against 6waves Lolapps over Spry Fox’s Triple Town game. What exacerbated the issues here is that, apparently, Spry Fox shared information about the game under an NDA, prior to release of the game, when the parties were considering a business relationship.

Even giants like Zynga have been accused of liberally borrowing ideas for its games. NimbleBit, developer of the popular iOS game Tiny Tower, has pointed out the many similarities between their hit and Zynga’s upcoming Dream Heights game. NimbleBit recently sent an open letter addressed to all of Zynga’s 2,789 employees that points out the numerous similarities in the games, offering eight screen shots that show virtually identical features with only slight graphical differences.

These, and other suits that follow these fact patterns, highlight the need for game developers to take certain steps to protect their IP and minimize the need for lawsuits while maximizing the chances of prevailing if they must sue:

  • Consistently use NDAs that prevent the disclosure or use of confidential information that you disclose to third parties, and try to include a provision that gives you ownership of any IP derived from the confidential information. Many NDAs do not include this.
  • Maximize your IP protection with a comprehensive IP strategy that includes patents, trademarks and copyrights. Many game developers have misconceptions about what is protectable and therefore inadvertently forgo certain protection to which they might otherwise be entitled.

For additional information on IP Protection Strategies for games see Pillsbury’s Advisory on IP Protection for Games.