How Can UK Video Game Developers Protect Their Intellectual Property Internationally?

In an age where the gaming industry is booming globally, the necessity for video game developers to protect their intellectual property rights has never been more critical. It is essential that video game developers understand the intricacies of copyright and trademark laws. This understanding will aid in the safeguarding of their creative works on an international scale, and ultimately, the success of their business. This article aims to provide an informative guide on how UK-based video game developers can secure their intellectual property rights on a global playing field.

Understanding Intellectual Property in the Video Game Industry

Before diving into the specifics of protecting intellectual property rights, it is vital to first comprehend what constitutes intellectual property in the world of video games. Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind for which exclusive rights are recognized.

In the context of video games, intellectual property might include not only the game itself but also aspects such as the game's title, character designs, music, storyline, artwork, and even the underlying software code. Copyrights, trademarks, and in some cases, patents, are the legal tools available to developers for protecting these different facets of their game.

The Role of Copyright in Video Game Protection

Perhaps the most common form of intellectual property protection in the video game industry is copyright. This legal framework affords developers the exclusive rights to their original works, including the right to reproduce, distribute, display, and perform their game to the public.

Copyright protection comes into effect as soon as an original work is created and expressed in a tangible form. This means that as a game developer, your game is automatically protected under UK copyright law from the moment of its creation. However, to enforce your rights on an international scale, you'll need to be aware of international copyright agreements such as the Berne Convention, which ensures that your game is protected in all 177 member countries.

Trademarking Your Game

While copyright law protects the actual content of your game, trademark law protects the game's branding. This includes elements such as the game's name, logo, and any distinctive catchphrases or taglines associated with the game.

Registering a trademark provides you with exclusive rights to use your game's branding in the UK, deterring others from using similar marks that could potentially confuse consumers. For international protection, one option is the Madrid System, managed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). This system allows you to file one trademark application that covers more than 120 countries.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act and Video Game Streams

In recent years, the rise of game streaming and esports has thrown another spotlight on the importance of copyright in the gaming industry. Under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), streaming copyrighted material without permission is illegal. While your games are your intellectual property, you must remain vigilant in enforcing your rights.

For example, if a streamer in New York is broadcasting your game without your consent, you can file a DMCA takedown notice. This will lead to the removal of the infringing content.

When to Consult a Lawyer

Legal matters can be complex and daunting to navigate, especially when dealing with international law. If you find yourself facing legal issues concerning your game's intellectual property, it may be time to consult an attorney. A lawyer specializing in intellectual property law can provide you with advice tailored to your specific situation, ensuring that you're taking the right steps to protect your work on an international scale.

In conclusion, the process of protecting a video game's intellectual property internationally involves understanding the different facets of the game that can be protected, utilizing copyright and trademark laws, staying abreast of new developments in the gaming world, and knowing when to seek professional legal help. By taking these steps, UK game developers can safeguard their intellectual property rights and ensure the continued success of their business.

Patenting Video Game Innovations

Apart from copyright and trademark laws, another important aspect that developers should consider is patent law. A patent offers exclusive rights to your inventions for a certain period of time, typically 20 years. In the gaming industry, innovative features such as gameplay mechanics, control systems, or game engine innovations can potentially be patented.

In the UK, you must apply to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) for a patent. If you're seeking international protection, you can apply via the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). Administered by the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the PCT allows inventors to seek patent protection in over 150 countries with just one application.

However, it's important to note that not all aspects of your game can be patented. For instance, abstract ideas or purely software-based inventions might not be eligible for patent protection. Therefore, it’s advisable to consult with a patent attorney or a law firm specialising in intellectual property to determine whether your invention is patentable under current law.

Addressing Intellectual Property in Contracts

Contracts are another essential tool in protecting your intellectual property rights. These written agreements can clarify ownership rights and responsibilities between all parties involved. In the video game industry, this might encompass agreements with employees, contractors, and third parties such as publishers or distributors.

For instance, a work-for-hire agreement can ensure that any work done by an employee or a contractor is owned by the company. Meanwhile, licensing agreements allow third parties to use your intellectual property under specific conditions, without relinquishing ownership.

It's crucial to clearly define all terms and conditions in your contracts. Misunderstandings or disputes can lead to costly litigation and potential copyright infringement. It is advisable to seek legal counsel when drafting these agreements to ensure they are legally sound.


The global gaming industry presents endless opportunities, but also challenges for UK video game developers. Protecting intellectual property internationally is one such challenge that requires a comprehensive understanding of different laws and mechanisms. From copyright and trademark laws to patents and contracts, developers must utilise all tools at their disposal to protect their creations.

They must stay informed about international copyright agreements such as the Berne Convention, register trademarks via the Madrid System, and consider patenting innovative aspects of their games. Regularly reviewing contracts and seeking professional legal help when needed is also crucial.

It is a complex task, but by taking these proactive steps, game developers can prevent unfair competition, protect their creative works, and ensure the longevity of their businesses. It’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes with knowing your intellectual property is protected, no matter where in the world your game is being played.