The Difference Between Two Meanings of “IP”

IP is thought of differently by business people and legal people. For legally trained folks, IP describes the legal coverage that a creative company like EA would get for their produced videogames or artwork or logos. The annoyingly-technical lawyer might point out that ANYTHING that EA produces with a copyright or a trademark is “IP.” An attorney-robot (“lawbot”?) might say that “Battlefield 7” is a “New IP” for the company because it adds new value to the company’s IP Portfolio and would be covered by a fresh claim of copyright protection. I would have a good chuckle if EA releases nothing but sequels and follow-up materials for existing series of games and uses this argument to explain their move. I seriously doubt they will do anything of the sort.

Normal people (“not lawyers”) understand EA’s announcement to indicate the creation of new stories, new characters, new ideas, new art,- all unrelated to currently existing EA games. What is interesting is that stories, character-types, broad-level ideas, general design and architecture are all not protectable by IP laws. While EA will be able to protect their new box art, the exact images of new characters, they will not be able to protect anything much more broad than that. This is why I can comfortably predict that EA might release a game that looks and feels a lot like, say, Assassin’s Creed without concern that Ubisoft will succeed in a lawsuit against them.

Even after studying IP law, I still find it interesting that a studio can create a game that looks and feels just like a different game from a different studio without any legal issues. On one hand, it’s good that no one company can have the IP right to “First Person Shooters” or “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena” games. On the other hand, it is sometimes obvious to the consumer that one studio is just copying a successful game without much of their own creative input. I wonder if future generations of judges will be prepared to make legal distinctions on genres of videogames. In cases of alleged copyright infringement of music, judges listen to the two tracks to evaluate the similarities, and the US Supreme Court apparently played some violent videogames in conjunction with their ruling in Brown v. Merch Assoc.

This remains my favorite image on the subject, from


It would be preposterous to copyright the general image of “looking down an iron sight,” but as you compare these images and play this games, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creativity is stagnating here. While the law theoretically could step in and try to impose copyright, I think it would be better if developers just found the courage to create something new. Ideally, something new enough to be worth of IP Protection. We will wait and see what EA delivers.


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