I have an idea for a game that I want to develop and I feel is unique, and I'm wondering if I should patent it. I read on the web that games can be patented, but just because it can be done doesn't mean that it makes sense to do it.

I actually don't really want patent it (it's expensive, a hassle and I don't believe in patenting of ideas... unless it's something truly revolutionary). However, I'm concerned a bigger company could come along, with more experienced game designers and developers and steal the idea.

  • \$\begingroup\$ It would cost more money and hassle to enforce patent infringement, let along patenting it. \$\endgroup\$
    – 5ound
    Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 17:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -Howard_H._Aiken \$\endgroup\$
    – chaos
    Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 19:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like you don't believe in patenting ideas… unless it's your idea and you don't want other people to use it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Fred Nurk
    Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 19:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't even think a game design in production can be patent, otherwise the first person that had a cover system, or rechargeable health, or shooting in a game would be making millions \$\endgroup\$
    – Spooks
    Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 20:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ See also related questions: gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/1965/…, gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/5684/… \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 28, 2011 at 1:20

4 Answers 4


It is often said that game ideas are a dime a dozen, but that's not true -- they're probably cheaper than that. An idea alone is essentially worthless, what matters is that you have the skill or capability to flesh that idea out into a design, and then execute that design.

Professional game developers do not trawl the internet looking for ideas to "steal" -- any one individual in a company has at least a few ideas they eventually would love to develop and most companies have many people, so there is never likely to be a shortage of game ideas. Furthermore, companies do not want to get themselves into even potential legal hot water by doing what you're worried about -- it's part of the reason most studios simply bin unsolicited "game design documents" (and believe me, we do get these in the mail quite often) without reading them as a general policy.

The chance that your idea is truly unique is pretty slim. But that doesn't mean it's a bad idea, just that you probably do not need to spend a lot of time or money patenting it. I would instead suggest that you spend that time and money developing it into a playable game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd add that if your game idea can truly be stolen and properly implemented by someone else, it's probably not worth implementing in the first place. Value lies in your execution of the idea, not the idea itself. There are certainly "clones" of popular, finished games, but they're rarely more successful or well-received than the originals. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 17:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ One counter that argument is Angry Birds, which is a clone of many various "knock buildings over" type flash games that have been around forever, but didn't make it quite as big for some reason. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 18:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Peter - I'd say two things about Angry Birds: 1) I think it's a great demonstration that a good implementation is what really matters, not an original idea. 2) It has also done well at least in part because it was released for a new(ish) platform (the modern smart phone, e.g. iPhone/Android) at a critical time in that platform's development -- it beat a lot of its competition to market. This makes it a bit of an odd case. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve S
    Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 20:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ What if the original inventor of a game that was about using projectiles to knock down a structure would have patented it? They at least could have made money by licensing the patent to Angry Birds :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Christian
    Commented Jan 28, 2011 at 13:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Professional game developers do not trawl the internet looking for ideas to "steal"" - speak for yourself. If an idea is good, and will add to the end product, I'm using it. It's part of the evolution of game design as an art form, or something. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetrad
    Commented Jan 30, 2011 at 4:48


Patents, for the most part, do not apply to ideas but rather to specific implementations of them. You may be able to get a patent for a specific process or methodology that your game uses, but this is a rather poorly-defined area with software. Also, patents require disclosing all of your information. Coca-cola's recipe is not patented because that would involve divulging their secret recipe.

Copyright tends to be more applicable to code, but it is very loose in terms of what it protects. Two pieces of software can be frighteningly similar yet not infringe upon each other.

What you want to do is keep it a trade secret. Don't tell anyone about it who doesn't need to know about it. Make everyone who you DO tell about it sign a non-disclosure agreement. If you're worried about someone independently arriving at your idea and beating you to market with it...well, you're out of luck. There is no protection for that.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I got it. I don't think a trade secret is what I want. I'm concerned about someone copying the concept after my product is made available to the public. I've read the thing about patents, that ideas can't be patented... but it doesn't seem to stop a lot of companies from doing, what looks to me like, just that. Sometimes it seems like it's a matter of how the patent is worded. I think that there's also design patents, which seem to be about a unique "look" (from what I understood about them). \$\endgroup\$
    – Christian
    Commented Jan 28, 2011 at 14:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ According to this article game ideas can be patented and people have made money doing it. ehow.com/how_4899582_patent-game-idea.html \$\endgroup\$
    – Christian
    Commented Jan 28, 2011 at 17:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ You'll have difficulty enforcing it based on how much of the product is "copied". Patents are very restrictive in what they protect; it's your EXACT implementation of the concept only. The intellectual property laws of the United States were originally designed to foster innovation by protecting the rights of inventors without unduly stifling creativity in similar products. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bill
    Commented Jan 28, 2011 at 20:48

In short? Yes, you probably can patent the methodology or process. I'm not a lawyer, however.
Would you want to? No.
Should you be worried of large companies stealing your idea? No. They have large teams who are trained to develop new game concepts. I seriously doubt they would go around the internet looking for concepts.

If you want to be worried of anything (which is stupid), then think of hobby developers. They're the ones who will be playing your games and might take your idea. But who cares if they do? Ideas are so common, they're pretty much worthless.

I've had a massive amount of them. Some of them have actually been games which I had never heard about. So the chance of your idea being unique is tiny.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Technically, you CANNOT patent an idea. More info from a more authoritative source: ipwatchdog.com/2010/11/23/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Bill
    Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 19:21

Patent are useful for laboratories when they spend a lot of money finding solutions which need a lot of scientific work: for example, finding an efficient molecule to develop a drug that treats a certain disease, requires work, while making that molecule is just a matter of chemistry.

On the other hand, a software idea just requires the work to implement it, something that is just plain different.

In one case, it requires work to find a solution, in the second it requires work to make it work.

Patent protects research that finds stuff, NOT the people who make them. The protection for people who makes stuff is called copyright, which is completely different. This way, patents are much much rarer than copyrights.

The problem with patents is this: They are over used anyways, because there will always be a debate about the expertise necessary to validate something that can be patented. Just look at all those numbers that appear when you start up adobe reader: it didn't prevent Google, Foxit and other application to write their own PDF converter. Also TeX seems to be able to produce equal if not superior quality documents.


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