The COVID-19 Board Game

To round out this week of COVID-related patent filings from 2020, here’s one I found that stands in a separate category. There were mask applications and vaccine applications, but this is the only COVID game applications (so far). I therefore introduce to you: COVIDOPOLY 19:

A top-down view of a board game labeled "COVIDOPOLY 19." The board follows the general pattern of a Monopoly game board, but with coronavirus-themed labels.
USPP 2021/0387081, FIG. 1

Game patents occupy a strange place in the world of intellectual property. They’re a little difficult to pin down, in terms of what the invention actually is. For example, is the game the physical components of the board and its pieces? Is it the rules, expressed as a method of playing the game?

A famous example is the Magic The Gathering patent, which was filed in 1994 and had a chilling effect on the entire card game scene for many years. Taking a look at the claims, the reissued patent that I linked to here covers many different angles, including the method of play and the physical deck of cards. Here’s an example:

37. A card game article of manufacture, comprising:
a set of cards comprising point cards and effect cards, each point card and each effect card having a point value associated therewith wherein before playing an effect card of an indicated point value, one or more point cards totaling the indicated point value must be played by the player, and wherein at least some of the effect cards in the set of cards are more powerful and have a greater effect on game play than effect cards having lesser effect on game play.

Essentially, the Magic the Gathering patent got a claim that is a deck of cards. Generally speaking, for an “article of manufacture” claim, the structural features of the claim guide whether it should be allowed. Features relating to how the object is used are not generally given weight when assessing whether the claim is allowable. See MPEP 2114(II). Any deck of cards should have served as prior art for that claim, so I’m not sure how it got through.

In the COVIDOPOLY patent application, the applicant is facing that exact problem. Cited as prior art is the original Monopoly patent from 1935. The originally filed independent claims are extremely broad, with the only distinguishing feature being, “wherein at least one of the spaces on said surface is a location of significance to the novel coronavirus pandemic.” The Examiner identified this as a “statement of intended use,” and rejected the claim. But the Examiner did give suggestions for how to proceed, “The Examiner believes that the applicant needs to cite coronavirus-game specific structures and functionality into the claims for there to be any prospect of allowability.”

Interestingly, the applicant is apparently a patent attorney himself, working at Pfizer of all places. He’s even selling the the thing on his website. I am not sure what he hopes to gain by getting a patent on a product that seems like it will have a severely limited shelf life, but he does appear to be actively prosecuting it. So good luck, Shahan Islam! Check in and let us know if you end up getting the patent!

Before I leave you all, here are some figures from the application. Gotta say, they make me a little uncomfortable.

A close-up view of a portion of the COVIDOPOLY game board. Properties are labeled, "Mayo Clinic, Price $4000," "Lose Money on Ineffective Immunity Test Kit, Pay $200 to the Board," and "Navajo Nation, $600." A space is shown to hold cards, labeled "Ventilator Card."
USPP 2021/0387081, FIG. 3
A series of example game cards labeled "Ventilator." Each card describes a coronavirus-related event with an associated amount to pay to the bank.
USPP 2021/0387081, FIG. 5

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