Do you have an idea for America's next big game? If you suspect it's going to be a big hit, you should patent the idea before marketing your concept. This is a long and costly process, but it's worth the investment instead of watching all your hard work be stolen by a competitor. A patent proves that you came up with the idea first, and is legal grounds to sue someone who infringes on your idea and profits from it.
Judge whether your game is original enough to deserve a patent. Specifically, patent law says your idea cannot have been described in a foreign or domestic publication within a year prior to your application. Additionally, your idea has to be "non-obvious" in its difference from a similar product. For instance, you cannot change the colour of game pieces for an existing game and claim it as your own.
Search for existing patents on games similar to yours. There are several ways to go at this, including hiring a pricey lawyer to do the work for you. Before investing thousands of dollars, take a look at the U.S. Patent Office's online database, which extends back to the office's inception in 1790. Google also offers a patent search engine, or you can pay a few dollars and use patent search service such as Delphion. The most thorough method is to browse through your state's Patent and Trademark Depository Library. Find one through the Patent Office's website.
If you find a game that's similar to yours, tweak your game to make it more original.
Build a basic board game. It does not have to be factory-quality, just a rough draft of the game pieces and a simple outlay of your game board.
Keep meticulous notes about the design of the board game and rules of your game. Include these in your application; the patent office is looking for as many specifics as possible. Besides, keeping it vague opens more doors for competitors to steal your idea.
File a patent application with all the particulars you have just created. The regular application fee varies depending on the product, but is usually pricey, often hundreds of dollars. It can take up to three years to approve. In the meantime, file a provisional application so you can put a "patent pending" label on your game.
If you put your game out in public (publishing online, for example) and do not seek a patent, anyone else can take your idea after a year. The so-called "poor man's patent" of mailing a concept to yourself is easy to fake and rarely holds up as evidence in court that your idea is original.