The mobile gaming industry is experiencing an invasion of clones. While cloning has a long and varied history, it has become more prevalent with the explosion of social and mobile games. Take, for example, Words With Friends, a variant on Scrabble, and the scores of Minecraft clones on the market. As game development times decrease and the useful lifetime of games diminishes, cloning has become more lucrative: games are easier to copy, and there are more of them to clone. The influx of copycat games in the mobile space brings with it new legal questions — are these clones merely off-brand digital replicas or are they blatant theft?
Historically, protection for video games has been obtained through copyrights and patents. Copyright protection can extend to the expressive, non-functional elements of a game, such as audiovisual display and the underlying source code, but not the ideas behind the game itself. Patent protection extends to the functional aspects of games, such as gameplay mechanics.
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