Who Knew Tetris Could Teach Us About IP Law?

On November 9, 2012, in Copyrights, by Brian A. Hall

UnIP (UnIntellectual Property): Copyright for Mechanics and Rules of Game, and Abstract Ideas of Computer Game

Who doesn’t love Tetris? Hours and hours of playing on Nintendo, begging for that one long piece to slide down to get quadruple points and save you from stacking up. While it is a fun game, it is also instructional when it comes to intellectual property law.

Tetris sued XIO Interactive, Inc., started by a recent college graduate, after it created a multiplayer puzzle game for the iPhone called “Mino”, admittedly using Tetris as inspiration, in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey for copyright infringement, trade dress infringement, and other causes of action. The parties cross-moved for summary judgment. Cutting to the point, the Court held:

1. mechanics and rules of game were not entitled to copyright protection;

2. general, abstract ideas underlying computer-based game could not be protected by copyright;

3. style, design, shape, and movement of game pieces were expressions subject to copyright protection;

4. dimensions of playing field of computer-based puzzle game, display of “garbage” lines, appearance of “ghost” or shadow pieces, display of the next piece to fall, change in color of the pieces when they lock with the accumulated pieces, and appearance of squares automatically filling in the game board when the game ends were expressions subject to copyright protection; and

5. competitor’s use of nearly identical game pieces constituted trade dress infringement.

I highly recommend that every intellectual property attorney read this case. Moreover, if you are merely interested in protecting your board game, video game, or other game, this case provides the most friendly explanation of some difficult copyright concepts (and it includes fun pictures from Tetris which will undoubtedly stir up memories of the days when your greatest worry was whether you could slide a piece before it locked in place).

I may take the day off and go play some Tetris (let’s all be honest, many of us took a day off in college from time to time to play video games).

Tetris Holding, LLC v. Xio Interactive, Inc., 863 F. Supp. 2d 394, 397 (D.N.J. 2012).


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