IP protection for games, apps, VR & immersive technologies

Today’s global audience for games is huge — and growing.

This trend, alongside increasing digitalisation, means that it has never been more important to protect the significant time, effort and creativity you put into your work and developing your brand from competitors, pirates and copycats.

Whether you’re a publisher concerned with increasing your market share or a developer looking to sustain your competitive advantage through process and product innovation, IP rights are hugely important. IP can attract investors and open up valuable new revenue streams through licensing and royalties.

In projects where every penny counts, this could make a decisive difference.

The possibilities unlocked by XR technologies appear to be endless. We’re seeing an enormous amount of innovation across the reality-virtuality continuum — virtual reality (VR) gaming is gaining popularity and becoming more affordable to consumers, augmented virtuality (AV) is seeing extensive R&D and augmented reality (AR) is spreading into the public sphere through health tech, wearables and apps. Being proactive about protecting your intellectual property allows you to gain a commercial advantage in such a fast-moving and cutting-edge area of technology.

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“Software and telecommunications are fortes for the “pragmatic, commercially oriented and dependable” Karen Fraser, who is increasingly making forays into cutting-edge fields such as AI, Internet of Things and blockchain… “There is never a case left in free-fall with Karen; instead, it is as if every case has its own parachute and team of paratroopers in tow.””

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Protecting your IP — how we can help

It’s a common misconception in the games industry that IP rights take too long and cost too much to secure to be worth pursuing. Often, ignoring your IP is a much more costly mistake.

IP rights are assets which add value to your company and can attract potential investors. You can also licence, sell or mortgage your IP to ensure that you receive a fair return for your creative efforts. Such benefits usually far outweigh the initial expense of securing IP rights.

Our expert attorneys can advise which type of right and level of protection is suitable for you, providing strategic and commercially-focused guidance to get the most out of your budget. We have a wealth of experience in protecting computer-implemented inventions, wearable technology, optics, electrical devices, telecommunications and augmented reality technologies.

From methods of image pre-warping, foveated rendering and surround-sound audio processing to lens construction, motion-sensor technology and ergonomics, the single example of a virtual reality headset demonstrates a variety of technological innovations that benefit from patent protection. The level of technical knowledge of our attorneys means that we can quickly get to grips with how your invention works and assess your intellectual property needs.

Read our FAQs below to find out more, or ask us your questions by emailing games@udl.co.uk.

FAQs — Games, apps and IP

Which aspects of a game can be protected with IP rights?

Trade mark registrations can be used to protect different elements of your brand. Word marks protect names (such as a game title or company name), image marks protect logos or character images and you can even register distinctive sounds or motions from your game.

Copyright is an automatic right that can apply to original literary, musical and artistic works, as well as other creative endeavours. This could include the code, soundtrack, GUI or storyline from your game.

Although there are exclusions to patentability that apply to the games industry, including for software (as such) or the actual method for playing a game, it’s possible to obtain patent protection for software features which provide a technical advantage. For instance, you might seek to patent certain improvements in the way media (video and audio) and data is stored, transmitted, manipulated and/or displayed in your game — providing that this results in a better, faster or more efficient operation relative to what already exists.

You might also look to patent innovative game mechanics, GUIs and more, potentially with a view to using licensing as a new source of revenue.

Our industry is fast-moving — does this mean that patent protection would take too long to be worthwhile?

No — applying for patent protection for a new and inventive functional or structural technical improvement can certainly be worth the wait, as this is the only IP right that enables you to prevent others from using the method or the features that cause this technical improvement, no matter the application or product that it’s used in. The protection that you receive from a patent is broader (as the improvement doesn’t have to relate to one particular type of game, for instance) and stronger when compared to some other IP rights.

The UK Intellectual Property Office and European Patent Office both have provisions that allow you to accelerate the process at one or more stages of an application. It’s important to note that provisional patent protection applies in a number of countries from the time an application is published — although a patent can only be enforced after grant.

It's also possible to accelerate the publication of a patent application in a number of countries, like the UK. This can be very useful option to consider, especially if you suspect than an infringing action may be taking place, or if you are seeking investment and require a fast publication and grant. In some cases in the UK, it’s possible to get a patent application granted in less than 12 months.

How can I protect hardware, accessories, merchandise and other products with IP rights?

The shape or appearance of a product can be protected by design rights. Some of these arise automatically but it’s always preferable to seek registrations. Design rights allow you to prevent competitors from selling products which copy your distinctive look, even if they’re technically inferior.

Patents protect how an invention works. For many products, performance is the key to success, even if sales may be helped by appearance and branding. In order to be patentable an invention has to be new and inventive. You must keep an invention secret before applying for patent protection. Merchandise is a valuable revenue source for the gaming industry, especially for publishers and Esport teams. Registered trade marks can be licensed to third-parties under specific terms to allow them to produce and sell licensed merchandise in return for royalties.

What other IP issues do I need to consider?

If you’re considering outsourcing any work to contractors or entering into agreements of any form with third-parties (such as distribution agreements), it’s crucial that you have an agreement signed, in writing, before work begins. This should state that any and all IP belongs to you (or your company). Your employment contracts should also contain IP clauses.

Not having these formal agreements in place can be a very expensive mistake. Copyright in particular is owned by the creator — so even if you’ve given a brief to a contractor and paid them for their work, you aren’t the copyright owner unless a written agreement exists which says otherwise.

Read our case study to find out more.

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