I want to build an electronic version of an existing popular board game that will use the same game mechanic and follow similar rules, but without requiring a physical board to play or any of the gaming figurines.
I followed the Hasbro vs. Scrabulous debacle and I would like to avoid a lawsuit, even though if my version were to be successful, it would be in their best interests to acquire it. That is not my aim, but plenty of fans will appreciate an online version which the publisher is very unlikely to pursue.
I would love to build and play an online version of this game with my friends and it is highly unlikely that the game's publisher will even think of developing an online version, not within the next ten years.
What are the legal pitfalls when building a digital version of a fun, popular board game and publishing it online?
Update: I want to make it clear that I do not intend to willfully infringe on or squat on the publisher's trademarks or property. I am asking this question specifically to steer clear of any unfair use or infringement.
My IP Research
From what I've read on intellectual property (I'm no IP lawyer, so correct me where I'm wrong):
...build a new game on a different (online) medium that is based on an existing game mechanic. A jarringly similar clone of the board game in question is currently published under a different brand with:
If that's legal, then surely a web application following the same game mechanic would not infringe as long as there are no utility patents in place on mechanisms (whether enforceable for software is disputable) and no trademarks are infringed?
So now I have a (draft) list of things not to do.
Short overall answer: You are heading toward intentional copyright and trademark infringement.
Responding to your specific Qs:
Disclaimer: This post does not constitute legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.
Note: This isn't really legal advice, but more philosophical in nature.
Go for it.
Ultimately, the question becomes, what are you hoping to achieve. If you're looking to make a large profit and create a new wave of interest in an old board game, you will most likely get into a legal predicament and/or be required to license rights to the game.
Remember that most of these legal protections are to protect someone's income. So, if you're interested in simply providing a service that is currently lacking and not in making a sizeable profit, you shouldn't expect much trouble. You may end up making a few dollars in the process and will be sure to develop a decent fan base before the company in question becomes aware. If/Once they become aware, they will of course contact you and look to use forceful tactics to acquire the company. Depending on provisions you take (namely, getting an attorney to help protect your rights before hand), you may have the ability to be acquired at a decent sum; however, you may on the flip side, have no such opportunity. If your main interest is simply to provide what you see as a needed service, I'm sure many will appreciate what you build and you can gain other positive indirect benefits. These include good will towards your future projects, notoriety in the community, and experience of building something, which is something most just talk about and don't gain.
Thus, I say that if you're not just looking for a buck (which it doesn't seem you are) go for it! Ultimately, I suggest that fear of legal repercussions shouldn't be considered enough to stop you from attempting the project, as you can make either make business or legal arrangements once you've gained traction. However, without any traction, this conversation is relatively unimportant.
(1) you're coming awfully close to IP infringement
(2) whether or not you infringe the board game owner's IP, you still can get sued
Why not pick another way to make money?
I'm not an IP lawyer, so I'm not going to give you any legal advice, but common sense makes it clear that if you are infringing on the IP of a big company, they are going to come after you with all they've got to protect it, even if it is unclear where you are legally infringing or not.
I think you have two options: