Trademark / Patent Questions for pro-builders

My stick building experience has been limited to personal use mostly controller hacks.

I’ve had a idea for a gaming peripheral that’s a little different and I think it could be profitable but I’m trying to find out a few things.

Can you patent/trademark a unique/unusual layout?

Is it legal to install commercially available components (Arcade components/ PCBs) and sell them as your own product? Example does Hitbox just order their parts off Akishop or do they have to get a agreement/permission from Sanwa?

I know they don’t care in regards to small builders but can Hori just order a 1000 buttons from Seimetsu and put them in their “hori brand Arcade sticks” or is their a lot of licensing involved in this aspect.

I’ll take a stab at this. I’m not a stick builder, but I do know a bit about business. In order:

  1. Yes. Hitbox has a patent on their layout.

  2. Regarding buttons/joysticks: you can source parts from whatever supplier you choose. In fact, parts suppliers like Sanwa or Seimitsu routinely submit bids to companies to entice them into choosing their products. They want to sell these components to manufacturers (especially in huge quantities), you don’t need to license them. If you plan on ordering in bulk, you may be able to negotiate a better deal with the manufacturer directly, rather than going through a third-party distributor (although if you’re buying less than 500 pieces of a given item, you may be wasting your time).

Now regarding PCBs, that’s a different story. In the case of ones like a product from Toodles or the PS360, I’m inclined to say the same rules apply, and I can’t imagine any parts supplier demanding you buy LESS of their products. However, when it comes to PCBs from prefab controllers (like a Sixaxis) you’d run into legal troubles really quickly if you were reselling them in a commercial product of your own, as they are generally a trademarked design and not intended for resale. When it comes to making XBox 360 compatible controllers, legally Microsoft does require you to license them, and there is a lengthy application process (see the troubles X-Arcade has had). Although I sure there are ways to skirt this issue, as many controller manufacturers in the past have sidestepped the licensing requirements (Microsoft has issued dashboard updates in the past to block unauthorized 3rd party controllers though).

The key thing you want to avoid with any brand, be it Sanwa, Seimitsu, Happ, Sony, Microsoft, etc, is you cannot present your product as being endorsed by them (unless of course it actually is). So, you can’t say “The new Seimitsu Arcade stick, from Blammo!”, but you could say “The new AwesomeSauce Arcade Stick, from Blammo. Featuring all Seimitsu parts!”.

Hope that helps.

Thanks, that’s what I was hoping to hear.

I figured the PCB would be the tricky part, this is a definitely a PC peripheral I never had ambitions of console support.

I think I might look in to see what the Cock pit control flight sim hobbyists use, whatever they are wiring to would need to be fairly open.

Hmmm i really dont think that is true. They have a patent on the name hitbox possibly but it would be foolish to get a patent on a layout. that would be the biggest waste of money because all you have to do is adjust the button placement and it is a whole new layout.

[S]You can’t patent something that already existed (all-button controller) ;)[/S]

Actually, I’ll just be quiet & let the law-men speak :slight_smile:

Copyrights cover a wide variety of expression through performances or certain mediums like written literature (which includes typewritten computer code), images, phonorecords (raw sound), audio/visual works (like movies). Further details pertaining to the full subject matter and scope of copyright can be found in Title 17, Chapter 1 of U.S. copyright law. You cannot copyright ideas facts, methods, processes or functions including functional form. I suppose you might already be smart enough to realize this, since copyright isn’t in the title but the important part here is that of the three types of I.P. protection, only copyright is automatically protected. You have to register for the other protections.

Trademarks chiefly have to do with identification and reputation. They could trademark their corporate name, their product’s name, logos associated with it and bar those from being used in a manner that creates marketplace confusion. By this I mean the name “Windows” can be trademarked by Microsoft for O.S. use but it doesn’t prevent others from using the name for their window washing service, albeit that might be a bad example because I’ve heard debate on whether actual dictionary defined words can actually be trademarked. Trademarks have to be vigorously defended so that society doesn’t become confused, otherwise they suffer the fate of Velcro and Kleenex in that they become genericized trademarks. The word “Hitbox” could be trademarked and that trademark could last indefinitely if appropriately maintained and repeatedly renewed.

Assuming it isn’t already, Hitbox layout would have likely need to be patented to prevent its use in other functional devices which requires all sorts of stringent requirements, including submitting a form with a design paper that has precise measurements of the hole cuts in the layout (probably like the sort you might find on slagcoin’s layout page), state the purpose of the design, cite all prior art that inspired the product’s creation, submitted in a timely manner ect. ect. Then there’s a period wherein sufficient modifications may render the patent invalid, albeit I’m not sure what qualifies as sufficient, albeit I’m sure there’s room for some margin of error otherwise almost no patent could be rendered enforceable. However just to give a general idea, here’s a funny little correspondence that highlights all of the funny little problems that can occur when trying to actually defend a patent.

A patent on a button layout would most likely last 20 years since it’s after June 8th 1995, while patents before that date typically last 17 years. As such most preexisting arcade game related patents would’ve expired by now since except perhaps for the most recent improvements on existing product. Also noteworthy is that most recent layouts have been devised in Japan, so what level of protection they might receive overseas in other jurisdictions is unknown to me. (I’m not a lawyer or anything, I’m just interested in the workings of rules and law. Also most discussion I have centers around copyright particularly, since I also have a [more] profuse interest in entertainment media.)

This oversimplifies the manner. You might not be able to patent an all button controller (not only because it already existed but because the concept itself is overly simplistic). However you can patent an improvement to something that already existed, say like the specific way the buttons are to be laid out for an all button controller.

The only way we’ll really be certain if the layout really is patented or not is If somebody could provide the U.S.P.T.O. file number (or an equivalent) since looking up the patent ourselves might prove rather difficult, considering there are a lot of inventions out there that need protecting. If patents or trademarks were filed, I think both would have to go through a period of pending in which case somebody could file a dispute so I don’t think it’s generally wise to go to market beforehand, albeit I think some protection is provided during the patent pending process.

Edit: Missed this part

I’m a bit hazy on precise details but generally speaking you can typically reuse stuff without asking. This is called patent exhaustion because the manufacturer’s interest in the distribution and use of a product is thought to be exhausted at the bill of sale.

I’m just quoting the HitBox

OK, I need to correct myself. Patent-pending rather than patented was their claim. Sorry (replying to threads at 3:30 am).

I’m just quoting the Hit Box team themselves. Voltech and I were talking about it previously, and he too was told they are patenting that layout, and did not want other stick builders using it. It used to be in the ‘About Us’ section on their website, but I just checked it, and it’s gone, so maybe it fell flat. Or, also likely, is that they were claiming it was “patent-pending”, but it was total bullshit and they didn’t want to get stung by it.

The name is obviously trademarked like any company with half a brain should do.

Fuck, I say rip it off any way possible. Sell it as the Box for Hitting Button, kind of like MadCatz does with their Combat Fightstick tops. Yeah, they don’t use the name Mortal Kombat, but we all know what they mean. :wink:

Other than I I doubt it will catch enough to make a profit on, I do not know why Mad Catz did not make their own Hit button panel.