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Can I create my own version of Monopoly and distribute it online or physically ?

I see that there were patents filed in 1923 . Can I create an improvement on the existing game and sell it online ?

If there is any law/copyright protecting this, is it per country/continent ?

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Related meta discussion. –  Pat Ludwig Aug 1 '11 at 14:14
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

You would likely be more concerned with copyright law rather than patent law in this case, especially given that as you have noticed, the patents have expired.

There is something of a precedent for what you want to do. In 1975, Ralph Anspach made a game called Anti-Monopoly (which, by the way, is a pretty interesting game - we owned it, and at the time, as a kid, I had no idea how significant this was). After a little less than ten years of litigation, Anspach won the right to continue publishing his game. However, Parker Brothers ended up with the trademark, licensing it to Anspach, whose game is still in print.

You will probably need to be aware of how copyright law works where you live and where you plan to distribute the game. (If you're thinking about online distribution, then that may mean laws where your customers live, not just where you live or where the servers are.) If you are planning on making money from this, you should consult with a lawyer to ensure that what you're doing is consistent with applicable laws; advice you get on this site is no substitute for professional advice.

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There are a number of Monopoly "knock-offs." I believe, for example, that Playboy created one called "Speculation" set in Chicago.

Game CONCEPTS are not copyrightable. What IS copyrightable is "text" regarding rules, properties, etc. Basically, if you apply the grade school test, "write it in your own words," you're probably ok.

Most gamers have played the game, so you won't get any mileage out of the game itself. What MIGHT appeal is a local version aimed at specific audiences. Perhaps one set in Bombay (Mumbai) for Indians or Hong Kong (for Chinese), using local street names, currencies, etc. Or one in cyberspace for "techies." The currency amounts are the things that are most "out of date" in the original Monopoly game.

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You may or may not be ok with "write it in your own words". Monoply has created quite a few of its own knockoffs which have their own copyrights. And laws are tricky and judges tend to side with the better lawyer rather than the law sometimes. The better question to ask yourself is "IS it worth the fight I could get into?" –  Chad Aug 3 '11 at 19:17
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@Chad: Basically, the new version has to be "different" enough from the old, so they can't be confused, however defined. New "knockoffs" do expand the reach, but not infinitely. Apparently, the questioner is a foreigner who wants to create a "local" version outside the US where these issues probably don't apply. That's what I was encouraging him to do. –  Tom Au Aug 3 '11 at 19:38
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While it is true that "concepts" are not copyrightable, the bigger lawyer wins anyway, especially in cases like this one. –  Lohoris Aug 4 '11 at 15:45
    
@Lo'oris: Maybe in Italy. But the questioner is not from there. –  Tom Au Aug 4 '11 at 22:43
    
As I understand it, not only are game concepts not copyrightable, neither are game mechanics. If you create a property buying game that uses a board with X number of spaces (the same as monopoly) and the players use a 6 sided die to determine how many spaces they go, and when they land on a property they have the option to buy it using money, etc etc etc. There is nothing copyrightable there. It is a concept and mechanics. Be careful with game terms that might have been invented by the game creator. –  Jason Dean Sep 7 '11 at 16:18
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There are several elements to a game... and most but not all are protectable.

Exactly which varies widely from country to country.

Some games that are explicitly legal reworks in the US are proven infringements in France, for example.

You need to look at where you're writing at, and intending to sell to.

Even where it's legal, plagiarism is still generally considered unethical; make it different enough to be worthwhile.

In the US, the literal text is protected by copyright, as is the board art (and by derivation, the layout of spaces). The Title is a trademark, as are certain artistic elements. The Chance and Community Chest cards are trademark and copyright. The specific property names and the rent and prices are pretty much copyright. The process of play was Patent, but the patent is long expired. And, given later reforms, the flow of play is no longer protectable.

However, remember: I'm not a lawyer, and I'm surely not YOUR lawyer - engage a good Intellectual Properties lawyer before publishing a derivative. Find out what your local rights are, and how far your can go.

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+1 for the bit about not being your lawyer. Copyright/patent/trademark law varies enough that it's worth consulting a professional. –  Joe Dec 16 '12 at 18:33
    
@Joe it's also worth noting that some US states have additional IP law, such as Texas' "Trade Secret Law" (actually a collection of favorable decisions in case law, not statute nor regulation). Canada, the UK, Australia, all differ. France goes well beyond them. –  aramis Dec 17 '12 at 4:38
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