Games Law History: the first ever games patent

I thought I knew the history of the games industry (especially having read Tristan Donovan’s excellent “Replay: a history of video games“). I also thought I knew a thing or two about interactive entertainment law. However, putting the two together I learned something new the other day: the first ever video game patent was filed in 1947. 1947!!

You can see it here.  It was an application made by two employees of US television company Dumont and was for what they referred to charmingly as a “Cathode Ray Amusement Device“.   It was beautifully written.  My favourite extracts:

“The invention relates to a device with which a game can be played.  The game of such a character that it requires care and skill in playing it or operating the device with which the game is played.  Skill can be increased with practice and the exercise of care contributes to success…

The game can be made more spectacular, and the interest therein both from the player’s and the observer’s standpoint can be increased, by making a visible explosion of the cathode-ray beam take place when the target is hit”.  

Spectacular indeed!  Sadly, as far as I can tell, the technology was never really progressed even though the patent was granted.  It wasn’t until 1972, some 25 years later, that a further video game patent was filed. By then the world had changed. The first modern video game, Spacewar!, had been invented plus a little company called Atari had been formed, to name but two quick examples. The technology behind this second patent certainly was to be used – it helped power the first wave of consoles and arcade machines and was in due course one source of an early wave of patent lawsuits.

All of that I knew already (and really ought to write more about on Gamer/Law), but I hadn’t known it all really had started off in some time back, in 1947…

By the way, if you want to learn more about patents and games, read my beginner’s guide to patents and the games industry.



4 thoughts on “Games Law History: the first ever games patent”

  1. I get an internal server error when I click on the beginners guide. Just to let you know

  2. Hi! You may be interested in reading my master’s dissertation from a few years back – it has a summary of the history of games patents and an onus on game-play design element patents in the US. Great site btw! 🙂

  3. Correction: the first patent for a “video game” was to Thomas T. Goldsmith & Estle Ray Mann on December 14, 1948 for their cathode ray amusement device.

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