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There's a board game that I really like called Mystery Mansion.

I want to make a similar digital version of the game for various mobile platforms, but I don't want to get sued by Milton Bradley (Now Hasbro) for infringing on their idea.

My game of course would not steal any of their artwork and my gameplay is slightly different, but the core of the game uses the same mechanics of a modular game board.

Is changing the artwork enough to avoid infringement?

I heard through the grape vine that game mechanics can't be patentable but the layout of the game can (Scrabble for example patented the layout of their game board, but not the Crossword Puzzle gameplay, or so I've heard). Is this a true statement?

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Isn't this a copyright/trademark issue? – Alex Chamberlain Sep 20 '12 at 17:05
Unlike copyright, which automatically provides protection as soon as the work is created, a patent has to be requested and granted. Has the maker of the game attempted to patent some of its aspects? – Gilles Sep 20 '12 at 17:07
@AlexChamberlain The name is trade marked, and the images are copyrighted. But I don't know if the game mechanics (how you play the game) are or if they can be. That's what my question is. – OghmaOsiris Sep 20 '12 at 17:13
Check to see if Hasbro has a patent on it. If they do, then you might be able to work out a deal, to use their patent. No need to get sued, if you have permission :) – VenomFangs Sep 20 '12 at 17:27
@VenomFangs I searched the games name, the mechanic and Hasbro (And Milton Bradley) and I can't seem to find it. Is there anything else I can do to make sure it's not patented? – OghmaOsiris Sep 20 '12 at 19:26
up vote 9 down vote accepted

Board game mechanics (the process for playing the game) are patentable. A Google Patent search for "board game" turns up lots of results. So no, just changing the artwork is not enough to avoid infringement if the game mechanics are patented. (See the article Patenting Board Games 101 for more information.)

In the legal battle surrounding Scrabble, the game mechanics did play a part. Hasbro dropped their lawsuit against the makers of Scrabulous after they agreed to change the name and the rules of the game, by increasing the number of letter tiles that each player receives from 7 to 8.

An additional note regarding copyrights 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.

Reference: Can I copyright my game? Are game rules protected by copyright?

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Up until Bilski methods for playing a game, both board games and card games were getting through. Post Bilski the art unit that handles that area is taking the position that they will reject all methods of playing as abstract. This is from personal experience. Also including a pointer to a case I am not involved in where the board found a method for playing a card name to be abstract, un-patentable subject matter. Another case found the requirement for a random number generator tied a board game to a "machine" so it was ok.

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This article is worth looking at:

"The PTAB found that (i) the claimed method is directed to a set of rules for conducting a wagering game, which is a patent-ineligible abstract idea, and (ii) the manipulations of the deck of cards (e.g., shuffling, dealing) are conventional steps in playing a wagering game that do not add enough to the claims to transform the recited methods into patent-eligible subject matter."

Essentially, they were trying to patent a new method betting on Blackjack, which was deemed a "business method" and purely abstract. (i.e. It's simply a set of mental steps for managing risk.) They were also trying to patent procedures which included shuffling cards, which is not novel, but a standard procedure in card games. Their patent didn't have any novel rules that comprised a new game.

Ostensibly, truly novel game methods should still be patentable, regardless of whether they involve computers.

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