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the tetris patent

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I stumbled upon this page on the web http://www.abednarz.net/tetris.html which discusses some developers who got threatening emails with regard to copyright infringement on the tetris patent. I was wondering to what extent this patent applies? What if you make a successful match 3 kind of game which uses tetris elements would that infringe the patent copyright? I mean it is all about falling blocks right? what if you make a 3d tetris game? would that still infringe the patent? what does exactly look and feel constitute? what if you use tetris in your game's name? Does anyone have any experience with this?

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I don't think patent law is the issue here. Intellectual property falls into a number of different categories; patents, copyright, trademarks and trade secrets; and the type of legal protection they offer differs depending which is at stake.

In this case, it appears to be a "look and feel" issue. I am not a legal expert, and I'm uncertain as whether "look and feel" falls under copyright or trademark; it is possible it is a bit of both. However neither of these would be strong enough to cover all falling block games; ideas are protected by patents.

However, don't do what the author of that website did and name your game something like "BedTris". The "-tris" suffix on a falling blocks game is an obvious attempt to capitalise on the popularity of the Tetris branding, and I suspect that was the trigger that set the lawyers off.

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Original post by eelke_folmer, numbers added by me
(1) would that infringe the patent copyright? ... (2) what if you use tetris in your game's name? (3) Does anyone have any experience with this?

1. There is no such thing as a "patent copyright." (^_^)
2. That's a great way to get sued!
3. Yes, lots of people.

See http://www.sloperama.com/advice/faq61.htm.

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Tom's site is fairly comprehensive about the issue generally.

But the site the OP linked to is not accurate.

The OP's site is over six years out of date and has been abandoned. Many of it's claims are outright false.

The two issues that the particular article is attempting to complain about are "trade dress" and simple trademark infringement.

The site (incorrectly) argues that trade dress is not really enforceable. This is untrue -- stealing look and feel of someone else's work is trademark infringement.

Trade Dress is a very real and established legal doctrine. It's what protects the distinctive elements which might not otherwise protected by trademark registration. A good example is the 'look and feel' of Subway restaurants with the maps of NYC, orange and brown colors, etc. These are protected under trademark laws as trade dress, even though the exact details are not registered trademarks.

The OP's site also (incorrectly) argues that the Tetris name has been diluted to the point that it shouldn't be a trademark any more. Even if those people don't like it, the fact is that the name Tetris is a registred trademark. Although to some people a dilution claim may be debatable, it is something that only a judge (more likely, an appeals court) could decide. Unless you have the money to fight several years of legal battles that you would probably lose, don't use the word Tetris or do anything that might be at all confused with it.

There are many Cease and Desist letters around the web like the one you and the site describe. Read them carefully. The #1 issue is the use of the name "Tetris" or a similar sounding term. Don't use it or imitate it. That is a blatant trademark violation.

The second issue deals with the distinctive artwork and sounds from specific licensed implementations of the game. Don't copy or imitate the artwork, and don't copy or imitate the sound. That is a blatant copyright violation.

And it should go without saying that simply redistributing somebody's binaries without their permission is just completely wrong.

As for the other questions, they are best directed to a competent lawyer. Generally, a genre is not protected by trade dress, nor are simple gameplay mechanics.

On to the bad news.

This is true of ANY business, not just your venture.

You might be doing everything legally. You can be completely correct in your actions. But any company can still send you C&D letters, can still take you to court, and can still sue you into oblivion. I have seen it happen many times, where a company's only problem is that they made a rich company mad and ended up going bankrupt or closing the business because of expensive legal disputes.

[edit - clarified between tom's site and the OP's site]

[Edited by - frob on February 14, 2007 10:41:05 AM]

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