How to Patent a Card Game

Rich Goldstein

Founder & Principal Patent Attorney
Three elderly people playing a card game outdoors

I know how much work goes into developing and implementing an original idea. If you devise an ingenious idea for a card game without finding a way to protect it, you might soon find yourself at the mercy of idea thieves.

As someone passionate about protecting my ideas, I have researched over the years some of the best ways to protect your ideas, and I have found one solid way: a patent.

My goal in this article is to help you better understand the process of safeguarding your original ideas and, in the case of an excellent card game idea, how to patent a card game.

How to Patent a Card Game

Card games are often associated with entertainment rather than technological innovation; therefore, patenting them might seem strange and, in some cases, even impossible. However, some games can involve innovative gameplay workings, novel rules, and unique concepts that deserve legal protection. 

Three senior people playing card games

This article will discuss the processes involved in patenting a card game. However, an important question must be answered first: Can you get a patent for a card game?

Can You Patent a Card Game?

Whether you can get a patent for a card game is a complex and somewhat debated issue. Generally, the patent system is designed to protect novel, non-obvious, and useful inventions. While some games might meet these criteria, patenting them has certain limitations.

Therefore, whether you can get a patent for a game depends on its type and the novelty and distinctiveness of its processes. In recent years, the U.S. patent law has gotten stricter, requiring a game to have more than just a set of governing rules to be granted a patent.   

Currently, the law does not qualify a card game that uses only a standard deck of cards for a patent. The game has to contain a new invention, such as a new deck of cards or a new game board alongside a new set of guiding rules, to qualify for patent protection. Here are the critical criteria that a game must meet to qualify for a patent potentially:

Novelty

The game must be new and different from existing games or prior art. This means that the gameplay mechanics, rules, and other aspects of the game should have been kept private, described in publications, or used by others before filing your patent application.

Non-Obviousness

The game must involve inventive steps that are obscure to someone skilled in game design. In other words, the game should not be a simple, predictable modification of existing games. It should instead exhibit a level of creativity and innovation that goes beyond common gameplay elements.

Usefulness

The game should have a practical and useful purpose. It should provide entertainment, challenges, or some type of engagement for players. A game that needs more utility might not meet these criteria.

Industrial Application

While these criteria might be more relevant for technical inventions, it generally means that the game should be capable of being made or used in some kind of industry, which includes the world of games and entertainment.

Three young people playing a card game on a table

Technicality 

The game should incorporate technical or functional elements beyond just the rules to enhance the chances of obtaining a patent. This could involve integrating technology, novel components, or innovative gameplay mechanisms considered technical.

What Kind of Patent Can Card Games Have?

For card games, patents can fall under the categories of utility patents and design patents. While utility patents focus on an invention’s functional and technical aspects, design patents focus on its appearance. A single card game could have aspects that qualify for both types of patents

Utility Patents for Card Games

Utility patents protect new and useful processes, machines, or compositions of matter. While games are more abstract than traditional mechanical inventions, they can still qualify for utility patents if they incorporate novel gameplay mechanics or technical elements. 

Utility patents offer protection that lasts up to 20 years from the date the patent application is filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Here’s how they can apply to games:

  • If your game introduces new gameplay workings or rules systems that haven’t been seen before, you could patent these mechanics as a process.
  • If your game involves a physical or digital component that enhances gameplay through technology, such as electronic card readers or interactive apps, these technical aspects could be eligible for utility patent protection.
  • If your game involves specially designed cards, boards, or other physical components that are unique to your game and provide a functional advantage, these components could be eligible for utility patent protection.

Design Patents for Card Games

Design patents protect the ornamental design and appearance of a functional item. While design patents are typically associated with physical objects, they can also apply to the visual layout of cards, game boards, and other game components. Here’s how design patents can apply to games:

  • Card layout and design: The specific layout, design, and arrangement of information on game cards could be eligible for design patent protection. This includes the visual elements, such as graphics, illustrations, and symbols on the cards.
  • Game board design: If your game includes a game board or play area with a unique design not dictated solely by functional considerations, you can protect the visual appearance of the game board through a design patent.
  • Component design: The design of specialized components like card holders, dice, tokens, or other physical elements that contribute to the aesthetic appeal of the game could be eligible for design patent protection.

Steps to Patenting a Card Game

Patenting a card game involves a systematic process. Here are some of the steps to getting it done correctly:

Step 1: Document Your Invention 

Detailed documentation is crucial to any patent application process. This step involves describing the game’s mechanics, rules, components, and any innovative elements. This documentation should include a description of the game rules and visual representations of the game setup, including diagrams, flowcharts, and illustrations.

Person holding a single playing card

Step 2: Build a Prototype

Create a prototype of your game. This doesn’t need to be a final version. A functional prototype helps demonstrate how the game works and can be valuable for testing and showcasing.

Step 3: Conduct a Patent Search

Conduct a thorough patent search to ensure your game idea is new. This involves searching online databases, patent offices, and publications to verify that no similar patents or inventions exist in the same field. This step is crucial to avoid investing time and resources into an idea that might already be patented.

Step 4: Consult With a Patent Attorney

While not compulsory, seeking advice from a patent attorney or IP lawyer specializing in intellectual property and gaming is highly advisable. They can help you navigate the legal aspects, assess the patentability of your game, and guide you through the application process.

Step 5: Determine Patent Type

Decide whether you will be applying for a utility patent, a design patent, or potentially both. Utility patents protect functional and technical aspects, while design patents focus on the design and appearance.

Step 6: Refine the Game Mechanics

Based on feedback from your patent attorney and potential playtesting, refine the game mechanics and rules to ensure they are innovative and distinct from existing games.

Step 7: Prepare Patent Application

With your patent agent or attorney’s assistance, prepare a comprehensive patent application. This includes:

  • Detailed description: A clear and thorough explanation of the game mechanics, rules, components, and technical aspects.
  • Drawings and illustrations: Provide visual aids demonstrating how the game is played and the components interact.
  • Claims: Define the specific aspects of your game that you believe are novel and should be protected.

Step 8: File the Patent Application

Submit the patent application to the USPTO or the relevant patent office in your jurisdiction. You must also pay the required fees as part of the filing process.

Step 9: Respond to Examiner’s Feedback

Be prepared for a back-and-forth with the patent examiner. They might request clarifications, amendments, or additional information to assess the novelty and nonobviousness of your invention.

Step 10: Get Your Patent 

If your patent application meets all requirements, including demonstrating novelty and non-obviousness, and survives the examination process, the patent office will grant you the patent. This gives you exclusive rights to your game concept for a specified period.

Step 11: Enforce and Commercialize Your Patent

After obtaining the patent, consider how you want to enforce your rights and potentially commercialize the game. This could involve licensing the game to others or producing and marketing it yourself.

Benefits of Getting a Patent for Your Card Game 

Obtaining a patent for your card game can offer a wide range of benefits that can be valuable in the competitive world of game development. These benefits include:

A kid holding several playing cards in his hand

Exclusive Rights

A patent grants you exclusive rights to your card game concept for a certain period, which is usually 20 years. These exclusive rights prevent others from making, using, selling, or importing a similar game without your permission. 

Competitive Advantage

Getting a patent for your game can give you a distinct competitive advantage in the market. It showcases your game as unique, innovative, and legally protected, which can attract players, partners, and potential investors. Additionally, since patents are publicly recorded, having a patented game enhances your brand’s visibility and reputation within the gaming community.

Licensing Opportunities

Patent your game idea before launching on Kickstarter so you have the option to charge a license fee to others. This is a lucrative way to monetize your invention, allowing you to give other people the right to use your game in exchange for royalties or licensing fees.

Increased Value 

When seeking investors, partners, or collaborators for your card game, having a patent demonstrates a higher level of seriousness, professionalism, and commitment to your invention. This can make your project more attractive to potential stakeholders, increasing your bargaining power.

Protection Against Copycats

In the gaming and entertainment industry, imitation and copying are not uncommon. A patent is a deterrent against others trying to copy your game’s unique features and workings.

If someone infringes upon your patented card game, you have the legal right to take action against them. This could involve issuing cease and desist letters, negotiating settlements, or pursuing litigation if necessary.

Increased Potential for Future Earnings 

Even after the patent expires, the knowledge and recognition gained from being the original inventor of a patented game can have residual benefits, including opportunities for future game development or consulting roles.

Examples of Patented Games 

Here are some popular games that got patented over the years:

  • Monopoly: Patent issued in 1935
  • Rubik’s Cube: Patent issued in 1977
  • Battleship: Patented issued in 1935 under the title “Game Board”
  • Rock’em Sock’em Robots: Patent issued in 1966
  • Twister: Patent issued in 1969
  • Simon: Patent issued in 1979

Related Questions

Do I Need an Attorney to Patent My Card Game?

No, you don’t necessarily need an attorney to patent your game. However, patenting a game involves legal, technical, and strategic aspects that can be challenging to navigate independently. Because of this, it is highly recommended that you get an attorney to guide you through these complexities and reduce the risks of having your patent application rejected.

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Patent for a Card Game?

The cost of patenting a card game depends on the kind of patent you’re getting. Typically, utility patents can cost anywhere between $5,000 and $12,000, depending on the complexity of the game and the amount of work that needs to be done on it. A design patent may only cost about $1,500 to $3,500. 

What is the Card Game Patenting Deadline?

There is no deadline to apply for a card game patent. However, if you have disclosed your invention publicly, the USPTO provides a grace period of one year, during which you can still file a patent application. After this grace period, you cannot file for a patent. 

Conclusion

If you have a new and useful game, a patent is the best way to protect it. Patenting a card game involves a complex process that requires a balance of creativity, legal expertise, and patience. Although the process might be challenging, the benefits of protection, monetization, and market advantage can make it worthwhile.

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