Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Patents vs. Trademarks
I was looking at the game X-Mercs on iOS and quickly realized that it was a complete rip-off clone of XCOM, with some Pay2Win nonsense thrown in. Others have noticed that as well. But apparently there is no legal mechanism to protect games from being cloned. You can protect the *name* of a game with a trademark, which leads to nonsense like the Elder Scrolls vs. Scrolls and Candy Crush Saga vs. Banner Saga lawsuits. You can sue somebody for making a game that is completely different than yours, but you can't sue him for making a game which is nearly the same.
Other areas of intellectual property laws don't work like that. If you have a patent on a machine or an industrial process or a drug, it is your idea that is protected. Nobody can put a functionally identical or very similar machine, process, or drug on the market just using a different name. At the very least somebody wanting to copy your idea will have to pay you royalty fees. The general idea behind patents is that such protection encourages innovation, because you don't have to worry that you spend all that development cost only to get underbid on the market by a cheap clone.
Of course no idea is perfect, and patents have been accused of suppressing competition and leading to price gouging. There is some value in having lots of very similar games around, because it improves the chances of one of them being to your liking. And if you run out of content in one game, you can switch to a functionally identical one with different content. On the other hand game companies display a certain degree of laziness, and at the moment tend to rather produce lots of clones instead of going to bother with coming up with new ideas.
So I do think at least *some* idea protection for games would be good. You shouldn't be able to get a patent that gives you a monopoly on all shooter games, but you should be able to fight blatant clones other than with sarcasm. Reallly, there are enough similar games around that encouraging a bit of innovation in game design instead of lazy cloning would be worthwhile.