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A question on intellectual property law for anyone that's made game assets before.

I'm considering making a commercial game, in this game there will be some assets that look identical to real life products and it's important that they do look exactly the same. An example would be a laptop that looks exactly like the real life laptop it's modeled on including branding in the same locations.

Is this legal?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If you display trademarks you will get a problem as well as with registered trade samples. Basically someone could accuse you of copying design. \$\endgroup\$ – Trilarion Oct 23 '14 at 13:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trilarion I have know idea what "registered trade samples" means, but the design itself must be protected by law to gain legal protection from being copied, which requires a design patent. \$\endgroup\$ – b1nary.atr0phy Dec 10 '15 at 1:02
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You should consult a lawyer.

It may be possible to do this, depending on the products in question, your legal jurisdiction, the legal jurisdiction(s) in which the products have IP protections, and so on. You're going to need a lawyer to help you unravel all the tangled, varied license legalese though.

You specifically cite the example of laptops, and the branding on those laptops. That branding is almost certainly going to require complying with license terms (here are legal notices containing relevant data for Acer, Apple, HP, Lenovo and Microsoft, just to name a few... and some of those are US-specific).

Other sorts of products may vary, you're going to want to do research and confirm the legality of using every single item you want, probably individually, as there aren't really many blanket rules.

Guns and cars do require licensing from the appropriate manufacturers, for example. And while it might be acceptable to model a coffee mug that is "exactly like" some other generic coffee mug, you probably can't model it exactly like a specific coffee mug because the logos on the mug might be protected by intellectual property laws, as before. There are even logos and branding that one might assume is safe for public use, being from government agencies, but even that is often covered by some kind of protection.

In short, even if you can afford a lawyer to help track down and make all the arrangements, I question that the result would be worth the time, effort and cost. Generally if you're trying to find out "how close" you can mimic a thing without legal repercussions you are on the wrong path and should find a new one.

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It will certainly be illegal if either of the following are true:

  • The product is protected by a certain industrial design right called a design patent, which prohibits using copycat designs. Cars are a common example of products protected by design patents. Even specific aesthetic elements of a product can by copyrighted (e.g. the bezel of the iPhone is a legally protected design.) See here for more info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_patent
  • You include any logos which have been trademarked.

Even if neither of those are true in your case, you're still walking on very shaky ground. You could try to make a fair-use argument, but that's not nearly as protective as some folks seem to think.

Regardless of all that, you need to keep in mind that a multi-million/billion dollar corporation is quite capable of financially annihilating you in the event of a legal boxing match. Even if you win, you lose. Why risk it?

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