Tetris and Intellectual Property Rights: Patent
This article is Part II of a series that elucidates the issues surrounding iPhone Tetromino games, Intellectual Property Law, and the Tetris Company. The series begins with a reproduction of the Tetris Company’s Cease and Desist Letters. Next, it defines and explains patent, trademark and copyright law. Finally, it concludes with a re-examination of the Tetris Company’s claims of infringement.
What is a Patent ?
A patent is an intellectual property right that grants an inventor the “right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” an invention (USPTO) for a period of up to 20 years. When a patent expires, the invention pases to the public domain.
Essentially a patent authorizes a temporary monopoly on a novel idea.
What is the purpose of a patent?
The purpose of a patent is to benefit society by 1) encouraging innovation that will improve the quality of life and 2) establishing a process by which inventions pass to the public domain.
Break It Down
The first stage of patent rights rewards the inventor.
Lets say I discover a drug that treats symptoms of autism spectrum disorders, and that I successfully apply for a patent. Knowing the demand of such a product, and that I will be its sole manufacturer for the next 20 years, I set a high price. What happens? Wealthy patients flock to their doctors to secure a prescription, and I profit greatly. Meanwhile, success stories pervade the media. Pharmaceutical companies begin to prepare for the day when they can get their hands on the formula, and autism patients gain confidence in the treatment.
The second stage of patent rights opens the market and brings the invention to the general public.
When my patent expires, the formula of my drug is made public. At this time any third party is free to step in and replicate, refine, and distribute the formula. The result? New competition, new implementations and improvements to my formula, increased supply, lower prices, and higher accessibility of the product to the general public. Now families that could not afford the original drug can buy “knock-off” brands that use the same formula to treat symptoms of autism spectrum disorders.
All in all, the inventor enjoys her day in the sun, and society benefits by being introduced to an invention that improves many people’s lives.
What is Patentable?
Novel and non-obvious inventions or discoveries are patentable.
The game concept of Tetris was once patentable. However, because it was never patented, it now lies in the public domain. Moreover, had Pajitnov patented Tetris at the time of its invention (1985), by now (23 years later), his patent rights have expired.
What this means is that no legal framework currently protects the replication, improvement, or sale of Tetris game mechanics and rules.
What does this mean for “Knock-off”, “Home-Made” or Tetris “Clones”?
First off, lets call them “Tetromino games” so we don’t cross over into the Trademark argument. The answer is that ANYONE can freely and legally create a Tetromino game with identical game play and rules as the original Tetris, provided that he uses his own codebase, art, and music.
I will go into Trademark rights in my next post, so lets hold off on “naming” a Tetromino game for now.
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