Q: Hi, I was wondering if you are able to file patents for video game ideas that are built on a 3rd party platforms.
In short, we run several large-scale game servers (such as Minecraft) which are run for profit. Due to the nature of Minecraft being a sandbox game, this allows content creators to have maximum flexibility over what they choose to provide to their audience. Minecraft "servers" (i.e. public communities players can join) can offer a wide variety of different "game-types" for players to play on.
A basic example of a game-type might be Capture the Flag, or Build Battles. We are wondering if patenting a specific "game-type" would be something possible, despite being built on a 3rd party platform (in this case Minecraft). The game-type in particular would be unique to us, however would be using the tools provided by the 3rd party platform.
The short answer is: yes, it's possible. Almost all patents are based on improving technology originally developed by someone else.
A patent can be filed on any new and useful process or improvement to a process. Playing Minecraft is a process (believe me, I know). You probably wouldn't file for a patent on actually playing the game, because enforcing that patent would mean suing potential customers. But looking at the situation in reverse, a computer performs certain processes to "present" a game of Minecraft to a player, and you can file for a patent claiming an improvement to those "presenting" processes. That patent would be aimed at a competitor running your game, not at customers (or at Mojang / Microsoft Studios, for that matter).
That being said, you can only obtain a patent on an improvement that is not "obvious" (that's that the legal term). Whether or not your particular game type improves the underlying technology in a non-obvious way is something you would want to explore with a patent attorney that you hire. You may also want to consider getting a copyright on any expressive in-game content.
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