People have been playing board games for thousands of years. The Royal Game of Ur, which originated in Mesopotamia more than 4,500 years ago, is reportedly still played in Iraq.1 (Game equipment has been found that predates the Royal Game of Ur by as much as 900 years, but the rules to those games have been lost to history.2)
In the modern era, though venerable games like chess and backgammon remain popular, many people associate the phrase “board games” with established staples such as Monopoly, Scrabble, Chutes and Ladders, and Candyland. More complex strategic games have been generally relegated to hobbyists and niche gamers, such as war gamers, who enact historical or fictional battles using cardboard chits or miniature figures on map boards. However, in recent years, there has been a rising tide of new board games being developed, marketed, sold, and played around the world. In 2013, board games accounted for more than $1.8 billion in sales in the United States, out of a $22 billion domestic toy market.3 These sales figures, while dwarfed by the size of the video game industry, are quite respectable and suggest that board games have become a mainstream source of entertainment. Digital and mobile versions of board games are also becoming quite common.
As a result of this transition from “kid stuff” and fringe hobby to mainstream entertainment, board game developers and publishers have found themselves facing intellectual property (IP) issues with increasing frequency. Lawsuits or threats of legal action—especially at the interface between offline and digital board gaming—are not uncommon. Message boards frequented by gamers and game makers contain questions such as “I am making a game; how can I prevent someone else from copying it?” and “I am making a game that is similar to Game X; how can I avoid getting in trouble for copying?” Board games occupy a nexus of the three primary forms of intellectual property protection—copyright, trademark, and patent—so these questions are not always easily answered.