The American patent process can feel daunting for any layperson to attempt, and many people shy away from having their ideas officially recognized because of the legal back and forth involved. The same goes for the board game industry, with most inventors investing in hiring patent lawyers to help them through every step, as the detailed application can definitely be a difficult thing to do. Yet, anyone can apply for one of the patents that best fits your creative vision. So if you've got the next Monopoly or Clue and you're ready to put it on the market, learn as much as you can about the patent process from an expert.
What Is a Patent?
A patent is documented approval from your country's government permitting you to have the sole production and sales rights of something you invented. You can have patents on parts of machinery, processes for production, and even products. Most often, people's inventions that they're wanting to get patented will be covered with a utility patent. The specific paperwork varies from government institution to institution, so you'll want to contact your local patent office for more information.
Why Do You Need a Board Game Patent?
Whenever you're wanting to release a product and make sales off of it, it's best to have the patented rights to it so that your competition can't legally steal your product and take sales away from your business. According to renowned IP lawyer and professor, Edward D. Manzo, a Supreme Court ruling in 2007 concerning patent obviousness has made it harder in the United States for people "to show inventiveness in simple mechanical inventions." Thus, "for a board game, there has to be something different than prior games, and it should not be predictable" in order for the USPTO to warrant awarding it a patent.
How Do You Apply for a Board Game Patent?
Applying for a United States patent is an arduous process, but thankfully, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) offers a thorough breakdown on their website of which documents you'll need to file for what type of patents you're hoping to be approved for. Here's an overview of the steps you'll take when applying for a patent:
- Complete a search of all public disclosures to make sure your invention hasn't been publicly disclosed. If it has been, it's not eligible for a patent.
- Have a patent lawyer fill out an application (either physically or digitally - though digitally costs less) and submit it to the USPTO. Note: You don't have to have a physical prototype of your product ready at the time that you submit the application; rather, you can have a detailed blueprint of all of the parts of your product to show proof of concept.
- Within about 22 months, the USPTO should conduct an investigation on your potential patent and submit the information to your attorney.
- During this time, you can amend claims made by the USPTO to make your patent more distinctive. After a few of these exchanges between the USPTO and your attorney, a final rejection or allowance will be reached.
- If an allowance is given, you'll finish paying the USPTO fees and receive your patent a few months later.
Provisional vs. Nonprovisional Patents
People with less capital who need some more time to prepare their full patent application can apply for a provisional patent. Given that the United States is a first-to file country, it's important to have a provisional patent in the works to prove that your product came first. Similarly, provisional patents aren't effective for more than a 12-month period, and within those 12 months, you must have a nonprovisional patent application filed.
When to Hire a Patent Lawyer
Hiring a patent lawyer can be advantageous for people submitting a patent to the USPTO for the first time, and also for those who don't have anyone in their social circle who's familiar with the logistics and legal framework of the entire process. Thus, if you're a newcomer to the entire patenting business, consider hiring a patent lawyer. It may seem like a significant monetary investment up front, but doing so might ensure that your patent application is accepted the first time around and that you don't have to continue paying fees to resubmit your application.
Costs and Timeline of Applying for a Patent
According to Maron, the whole process for being awarded a patent can cost between $5,000-$10,000, with some reaching the $20,000 mark. The minutiae are different for every individual's patent application, meaning that the total sum varies from person to person. Also keep in mind that since the average time it takes for a patent application to be reviewed is 20-22 months, the entire process from start to finish can take two-and-a-half years to be completed. This is where provisional patents can help secure your product and also aid in the nonprovisional application process.
Protect Your Creative Property
Being struck by the creative bug doesn't always prepare you for protecting your inventive interests, and if you're thinking about monetizing something like a board game, you'll absolutely want to submit a patent application before showing it off to your few thousand followers on social media. Patents let you distinguish your creative property and ensure that no one else can claim rights to it. So, while the process is both long and expensive, it's a must-do for the next Parker Bros. or Hasbro entrepreneurs.