Board Games and Intellectual Property
I just finished teaching from The Knockoff Economy in my Law and Technology Seminar. The book, as I’m sure many of you know. describes thriving creative fields where copyrights and patents are either unavailable or play no meaningful role. Examples include: (1) fashion, (2) cooking; (3) team sports; (4) databases; (5) tattoos; (6) hairstyles; (7) fonts; and (8) magic tricks.
One industry that the book does does not discuss but that does fit this paradigm involves board games. The rules of a board game are not copyrightable, and getting a patent on a game nowadays is almost impossible. The name of game can be trademarked and aspects of the game’s appearance might qualify as trade dress, but that is all that the inventor or owner of the game can rely upon.
The board game business, though, seems to be doing just fine. Entry barriers are low, of course, which helps explain why a relatively open system can work. There must be something else to this though. Why are classic games like Monopoly, Scrabble, Clue, and Risk able to survive? In other words, why do brand names or trade dress seem so crucial for games?