Guard your games: Protecting intellectual property in video games

In the fifth episode of Canadian IP Voices, CIPO's podcast series where we talk about intellectual property, lawyer Michael Shortt discusses his personal experiences and explains how IP works in the video game industry. The gaming industry is a significant economic driver in Canada and is growing rapidly through direct video game and console sales, streaming sites like Twitch and YouTube Gaming and even feature film franchises. As such, Canadians should understand what they can do to protect their IP in video games and what exactly can be protected. As we'll find out, IP in video games can be protected in a variety of ways, with copyright, trademark, industrial design and even patent protections!

Two people holding controllers as they play a soccer video game on their tv screen

Let's follow the story of Seth as he brings his independent game Ranch Runner to market. Seth first had the idea for Ranch Runner when he was in his final year of university. He began working on the game during evenings and weekends and even enlisted the help of his partner Mary, who is an artist. The pair created the game together, with Seth working on the back-end engines and code that runs the game and Mary creating unique art for the characters and landscape. Seth also asked his musician friend Mike to create the music for the game.

From the beginning, Seth knew it was a good idea to get permission in writing when using other people's creations in his game. Although he felt awkward asking, and even though copyright automatically protected their work as soon as it was created, he got written permission from both Mary and Mike to use their copyright for the artwork and soundtrack.

Seth also asked Mary to create a logo for the game and for his one-man development studio. He needed an app icon that stood out in the app store, and Mary designed one that really popped!

Seth's game is an open-world farming simulator where the player takes care of animals and crops and has to deal with different challenges related to weather and soil conditions, among other obstacles. Seth created a unique randomizer for the game that matches the in-game weather to a location in the real world. The game lets you know where your ranch is located, and the conditions in the game mirror real life.

After combining the back-end code, the artwork and the soundtrack into a finished product, Seth contacted an IP lawyer. He knew he wanted to protect the intellectual property that he worked so hard to create but wasn't quite sure how to go about it. Seth's lawyer suggested that he file a trademark application for his logos, for both the game and his studio. Seth's lawyer also informed him that some of the art that Mary created could possibly be protected by registering an industrial design.

Seth's lawyer was especially interested in the engine Seth created that paired the in-game weather patterns with a random real-world location. Seth's game offered a new and inventive solution to a technological problem and actually modified how a computer works. The lawyer suggested that Seth apply for a patent for his work in order to protect his intellectual property.

In the coming weeks, Seth will launch Ranch Runner on app stores for both iOS and Android and hopes to expand to other video game markets like PlayStation and Xbox. He's happy that his work will be protected by Canadian copyright, trademark and industrial design, and by his patent!

To learn more about intellectual property rights in Canada and how they apply to the video game industry, listen to the CIPO podcast with Michael Shortt.

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