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is the concept for Tetris in the public domain or is there someone who is still collecting royalties on the concept? I mean, if I were to write a variant of Tetris would I owe somebody some money? Thanks.

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Very interesting question! I'd imagine the answer is yes if it has ever been copyrighted, but I see clones of it all the time... –  John Aug 26 '11 at 14:12
    
Here's a nice blog that covers the legality of Tetris: desiree47.wordpress.com –  thedaian Aug 26 '11 at 14:33
    
Interesting blog post, but in the comments, someone mentions a reject app (App Store) because of "resemblance to a well-known third-party trademark, Tetris". –  plang Jan 14 '13 at 14:59
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3 Answers

The game, name, and all associated works of Tetris are owned and trademarked by The Tetris Company.

The concept of tetrominos, however, are not owned by anyone. Though The Tetris Company's website indicates the term 'Tetriminos' is in fact trademarked.

Whether you can create a clone of Tetris under another name is certainly up for debate. Recently a 'Tetris-clone' named Blockles was removed after litigation from the Tetris Company was brought against it. I have not been able to find the game in question to see just how close to the original Tetris game it was.

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Is there a description of the copyright "The Tetris Company" holds on the Tetris gameplay itself? (not on the name...) Does any game made up of falling tetrominos automatically infringe the patent? –  plang Jan 14 '13 at 14:54
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Tetris has been programmed in 1984 and sold commercially ever since. Since his author is not dead yet (I think), and certainly not dead for 70 years, it's definitely not in the public domain.

It's not an abandon-ware either because there's at least one company that claims to have the rights and wants to make money out of it. Now, as to who really owns the rights, that's highly questionable, as you can see in the Wikipedia article.

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Алексей Пажитнов is alive and well, last I checked. :) –  Martin Sojka Aug 26 '11 at 14:38
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Game concepts cannot be copyrighted (or patented). If a clone is close enough to the original, the creator can be sued. However, they must be extremely close to the original.

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-1 misleading: while it is true that they can't be patented, patent trolls do it anyway, and in court who has most money wins regardless of any law. Furthermore, the "must be extremely close to the original" sentence is just random nonsense. –  Lohoris Aug 27 '11 at 22:47
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