Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Board Games, the Bible, and Canada

Hi Rich: I am a Canadian and in 1999 I approached a company (not a board game or toy company) to find out if they wanted to produce a board game. The prototype I sent them was based on a Biblical story and required that the player answer a series of questions to win. I have some emails from this company that I saved that clearly show that I was working with them on the game. After a year of having no contract and no clear answers, I got agitated and contacted the office manager (supposedly the employee's boss) and I was then told that since this company was not a board game producer, they would not be interested in pursuing this with me, but if I did have it produced, they would consider it. Long story short, this company along with their book publisher did in fact produce a board game for kids remarkably similar to mine, although there are some differences. The board itself looks very similar, and the strategy and method of winning are the same. Their board is in a different case and they use a "pop up" device but there are still many similarities. Is this a copyright infringement? Am I protected in Canada just having the idea or did I legally need to do something else to protect my idea? The short answer to your question -- to paraphrase Bob Dylan -- is that something is happening here but we don't know what it is. Your dilemma falls into a growing area of litigation known as idea-submission disputes. Whether your situation violates Canadian law (we're assuming you submitted to a Canadian company) probably depends on the following: (1) The circumstances under which you submitted your idea. (Was it clear you were making the submission for financial consideration? Probably.) (2) Whether your idea was sufficiently unique. (Have others come up with the same concept or are they likely to? That's a tough call since it's based on the Bible.) (3) Whether there is documentation indicating that the company intended to enter into an agreement or venture with you (or otherwise share revenue). (4) Whether what you provided was sufficiently copyrightable. (Did the company infringe that copyright with their game? Hard to tell without further investigation.) (5) The amount of time that has passed since the company first produced the game. (Did you wait too long to pursue this claim?) (6) Whether Canadian idea submission law differs substantially from U.S. law (according to this article, they appear to be based on similar Anglo-American legal principles). As usual, there are other factors, such as whether you can afford to hire a lawyer, whether you can afford to duke it out, and whether the game is popular enough to make the lawsuit worthwhile. (And of course, the Dear Rich staff suggest that you could always turn your experience into another board game.)