IP Information & News

Game devs and eSport teams — how to protect your brand assets with trade marks

Annabel Hanratty

By Annabel Hanratty

Senior Trade Mark Attorney

Much of the value in a video game stems from intellectual property (IP), which can take many forms to protect different aspects of your creation, from the underlying code to the title and characters. IP rights are assets which attract investment and ensure that you receive a fair return for your creative efforts — which usually far outweighs the initial expense of securing them.

Trade marks are among the most key forms of IP in the gaming industry — registrations provide powerful monopoly rights to keep others (especially competitors) at a reasonable distance from and maintain a strong and distinctive presence. Trade mark registrations can also be renewed indefinitely — but what exactly can they be used to protect?

Here’s a quick overview to help you recognise the IP that you might be able to secure.

Word marks

Word marks are used to protect your company name, the title of a game, character names or an eSports team name.

For example, Nintendo® has registered trade marks that cover all the different editions of The Legend of Zelda titles and many of the Pokémon character names.

A registered word mark gives you the right to stop others from using the same or a similar word in respect of the same or similar goods or services as you, where the later use could cause confusion. This enables you to maintain the impact and overall distinctiveness of your trade mark.

Logo and image marks

Protecting logos and images can be just as important as securing word marks. Such items are usually instantly recognisable (for example, the Nintendo company logo) or a popular character (for example, Pikachu from Pokémon).

All popular eSports teams have a logo which is displayed at their competitions, on their streams and on merchandise. The current leaders of The Overwatch League® — The Shanghai Dragons® – have registered their logo in the EU.

Sound marks

Registering sounds as trade marks is less common, but this could help you protect a very distinctive element of your brand. To secure protection, the mark must meet the criteria of being “clear, precise, self-contained, easily accessible, intelligible, durable and objective”.

For example, the Tetris theme is registered as an EU trade mark:

However, it’s now more common for sound marks to be submitted in JPEG MP3 format, rather than musical score format.

Motion and multimedia marks

Though another less common category, distinctive motions and multimedia marks can be registered as trade marks. These types of registrations could for example be used protect specific and distinctive character movements that are unique to your game.

Note that motion marks historically didn’t include sound — the application had to set out the different graphical frames of the motion. The famous ‘gun barrel’ James Bond intro is protected as a motion mark in the EU and a separate multimedia mark exists for the classic James Bond music.

As technological capabilities have improved, it’s possible to protect motion and sound together.

Tips to register trade marks in the gaming industry

When registering a trade mark, you must select which goods and services the mark applies to. As well as covering the classes that apply to computer games and entertainment services, it’s important to consider what other areas you may expand into. For example, could your mark be applied to different types of merchandise, such as toys, clothes, cups and stationery?

Another aspect to note is that trade marks are territorial. This means that a UK trade mark only provides protection in the UK. Complete worldwide protection can be very expensive and often unnecessary. To decide which countries to protect your mark in, you should consider which markets are likely to be important to you and where any of your manufacturing facilities may be located.

For expert, tailored advice on protecting the key elements of your game with trade marks, get in touch with me at ath@udl.co.uk.

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