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Even Slot Machine Games Have Copyright Protection

by | May 7, 2024 | Copyrights, Intellectual Property

As we have discussed in previous posts, protecting your intellectual property is important – but it is not worth pursuing at all costs. We can see this in the recent progression of a case brought by Aristocrat Technologies, a slot machine creator, whose complaint addresses game copyright and trademark infringement, as well as trade secrets. 

Yet, if the case goes to trial, Aristocrat Technologies may actually be endangering their IP trade secrets while trying to protect them. How so? 

Aristocrat’s Complaint Against Light & Wonder Inc.

In February 2024, Aristocrat Technologies filed a lawsuit against competing slot machine game company Light & Wonder, Inc. (L&W) and affiliates. In it, they alleged that L&W’s game, Jewel of the Dragon, fell too close to the style and gameplay of Aristocrat’s most successful games, Dragon Link and Lightning Link. 

The complaint articulated five counts in particular:

  • Two counts of trade secret misappropriation – on the state and federal level
  • Copyright infringement
  • False designation of origin, unfair competition, trademark and trade dress infringement
  • Deceptive trade practices

The complaint asks for an injunction on L&W’s manufacturing and distribution of Jewel of the Dragon, as well as commercial and punitive damages. How likely is it that the case will turn out in Aristocrat’s favor? 

In the complaint, Aristocrat Technologies goes into detail about Dragon’s Link aesthetics. The game’s look draws on Asian cultural aesthetics, including prominent usage of red and a specific style of dragon illustration – aspects that L&W chose to incorporate in its game design, too. However, IP experts who have weighed in on the case point out that many games made for Asian audiences use these common themes.

The bulk of Aristocrat’s argument, however, seems to come down to one big question.

Did L&W Copy Aristocrat’s Game Design Using Former Aristocrat Employees?

Aristocrat notes that unique elements of Dragon Link’s mathematical structure are reflected in its gameplay, to the degree that L&W could not create a similar gameplay experience without copying the actual math behind it.

To this point, Aristocrat’s case leans on the presence of several former employees who were later hired by L&W. Their roles ran the gamut, but certainly gave them access to pivotal information regarding Aristocrat’s game mechanics. Some examples of employee roles mentioned are:

  • Executive management
  • Chief Product Officer
  • Senior Game Designer
  • Lead Artist

Notably, one game designer was caught downloading – without permission – over 6,800 files from a cache of Aristocrat trade secrets and proprietary information onto their personal device. There is a separate case against this former employee in Australia, but the incident is noted in Aristocrat’s lawsuit against L&W, too. 

Will the court find this reasoning compelling? Perhaps the bigger question is whether Aristocrat even wants to go to trial.

Reasons to Avoid Trial

Pursuing an infringement case in federal court can expose a company’s trade secrets. In this particular situation, Aristocrat Technologies may need to explain the inner workings of Dragon Link’s math in order to justify their case. 

Most federal courts have procedures for filing documents that are considered confidential under seal, but at some point either a judge or jury will have to view the confidential information to determine whether the trade secrets were misappropriated. In addition, the defendants will need enough information regarding the trade secret so they can provide an adequate defense.

Rather than stymieing competitive copies, this exposure may actually fan the flames. Or, conversely, Aristocrat may keep their arguments vague to protect trade secrets – and lose the case due to this lack of specificity.

The best scenario for Aristocrat Technologies is likely to settle the matter with L&W without going to trial. That way, they will be able to argue clearly while keeping their essential trade secret information private. Whether they will be able to do that remains to be seen.


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