On Tuesday afternoon, trying to find “Wordle” on the iOS App Retailer turned up a small handful of apps aping the title and gameplay of the simple word game that has gone viral in recent weeks. However none of these iOS apps had been made by Josh Wardle, the Brooklyn-based software program engineer who created the free web-based game last October.
In the present day, all of these copycat apps are gone, the obvious results of a belated purge by App Retailer reviewers following some social media attention. However this seemingly doesn’t suggest the tip of Wordle clones. These fast removals paper over the sophisticated authorized and social panorama surrounding copycat apps and the protections builders can declare on their recreation concepts.
Who owns “Wordle”?
To start out, it is vital to notice that the fundamental five-letter guessing recreation underlying Wordle just isn’t itself a very authentic thought. The identical fundamental gameplay was popularized by Lingo, a recreation present that dates back to the ’80s in the US and other countries. The 2-player pen-and-paper recreation Jotto, which fits again to 1955, would even be very acquainted to Wordle gamers. Earlier than that, a extra conventional model of the sport known as Bulls and Cows has been performed because the nineteenth century, in line with at least one source.
Conveniently, none of this historical past gives a authorized drawback for Wordle itself. “Each time you will have a copyright, you are defending the expression, not the thought,” Dallas attorney Mark Methenitis told Ars. “It is a line lots of people have a really exhausting time with, particularly once you get into video games.”
In different phrases, it is exceedingly exhausting to copyright an summary recreation mechanic like “guessing five-letter phrases and giving hints based mostly on appropriate letters.” A recreation developer can file for a patent on an authentic gaming thought, a authorized course of that has been used to strangle online game clones prior to now. However getting a patent is an extended and arduous course of that may collapse if there’s “prior artwork” predating the thought (or if the mechanic may very well be thought of legally “apparent”).
A trademark free-for-all
Separate from copyright or patent, a trademark may at the very least legally shield the title Wordle from being exploited by copycats. However in contrast to copyright, which applies mechanically when a piece is printed, logos offer very limited protection till and until they’re registered with the US Patent and Trademark Workplace.
A fast search on the USPTO website exhibits two prior marks for software program known as “Wordle,” one from 2010 and one from 2013. Each of those had been deserted shortly after their authentic submitting, however Wardle apparently hasn’t filed for his personal trademark on his all of the sudden well-liked title.
That has left the “Wordle” trademark legally up for grabs, a scenario that an organization known as Monkey Labs Inc. has taken benefit of. On January 7, that outfit filed its personal trademark utility for “Wordle,” claiming possession of the title for “downloadable laptop utility software program for social networking, specifically, for posting, displaying, or displaying info within the subject of digital gaming by way of the Web, specifically, software program for enjoying phrase puzzle video games.”
There may very well be grounds to get that trademark canceled for industrial misrepresentation below the 1947 Lanham Act, however any such authorized argument may very well be an uphill battle. That is very true as a result of different video games and apps used the title previous to Wardle’s creation. There are at present three video games on the iOS App Retailer—Wordle!, Wordle – Phrase Puzzle, and Wordles—that predate the Wardle model by years. Whereas none of those have any mechanical similarities to the present viral hit, they’ve as a lot of a declare to the historic use of the “Wordle” title as anybody.