I'm only familiar with the rules in the USA, so assume everything I say only applies here unless someone says otherwise.Trademarks
Trademarks tend to be used for company names, although some products are trademarked as well. You need to register your trademark with the federal government, pay for it, and pay renewal fees every so many years (I want to say 10, but it may be 5). The internet domain registry has a rule that if two groups claim that they should get a website name (www.somecompany.com
) the one that holds the trademark for the company name wins. This was especially important early in the days of the internet, before all the big companies realized that they needed websites. Say that Ford (the car company) hasn't registered www.ford.com
yet, and some guy realizes that they're going to need it. So he registers www.ford.com
, and then, when Ford tries to get into the game, he tries to sell them the domain name for a million dollars. Since Ford has the trademark, the domain registry would have sided with them.
Trademarks are specific to the type of product you produce and, if you want to cover multiple product types, you have to pay for multiple Trademarks. This is why, before iTunes, Apple Computer and Apple Records each held a trademark on "Apple" even though they are different companies. When the computer company went into music, they had to resolve things with the record company.
If Mortze and I made a lot of money with our games, it might be reasonable to Trademark "Tora Productions" or "Mortze Art." It wouldn't be reasonable to trademark "Dreaming with Elsa" or "DwE," etc. However, super big products ARE trademarked. I'm sure Apple has a trademark on "Macintosh" and "iPhone." Etc.Copyrights
Copyright is automatic and doesn't need to be registered or paid for. It covers books and movies and music and games, etc. Any game you make is copyrighted, and people can't just copy it. It is definitely the case that my games are Copyrighted and anyone who posts them without my consent is in violation of Copyright law. This is hard to enforce, though. I explicitly give Leonizer permission to post my games and profit on them through advertising. I clearly give Shark the right to hold pointers to my games on the lagoon, since I'm the one who posts them. Same with P a t r e o n. But if some random website posts them, it's pretty gray. What happens when a site with advertising posts a review to one of my games and links to my download site? Theoretically they're benefiting from my game, but it would be hard to claim that they're hurting me by doing so. On the other hand, if someone took one of my games and sold it on an app store or something without sending the money to me, that's a clear violation. This has actually happened to me, and it sucks. But it's hard to fight, especially because I value my anonymity more than any potential revenue from the games. In the end, the only real way to enforce a copyright is through a lawsuit, and it's hard to do that anonymously.
Beyond outright copying, it gets much more gray. If you did a dating game called, "Redemption for Jesika" (one s) about a down on her luck country singer and you're an employee in the DMV who sees her when she comes in to get her driver's license, I think most people would claim you were copying me. On the other hand, if Disney did an animated short called "Dreaming with Elsa" about the princess from Frozen looking to the future with her sister, it would be hard to claim copyright violation. Patents
Patents cover inventions and must be registered and approved. I don't think they actually cost anything, but you pretty much need a patent lawyer to write the application if you want to have any chance of getting the patent granted. And, if anyone violates your patent, you have to sue them, or your patent is nullified. So they're actually pretty expensive. Patents have a fairly complex set of rules to determine whether they're valid. You can't possibly patent a game or a title, but you could potentially patent some technical aspect of the game. For instance, if the makers of Bioshock invented a great algorithm for rendering water, they might have patented it. But they couldn't patent the game itself.