Copyrights cover a wide variety of expression through performances or certain mediums like written literature (which includes typewritten computer code), images, phonorecords (raw sound), audio/visual works (like movies). Further details pertaining to the full subject matter and scope of copyright can be found in Title 17, Chapter 1 of U.S. copyright law. You cannot copyright ideas facts, methods, processes or functions including functional form. I suppose you might already be smart enough to realize this, since copyright isn’t in the title but the important part here is that of the three types of I.P. protection, only copyright is automatically protected. You have to register for the other protections.
Trademarks chiefly have to do with identification and reputation. They could trademark their corporate name, their product’s name, logos associated with it and bar those from being used in a manner that creates marketplace confusion. By this I mean the name “Windows” can be trademarked by Microsoft for O.S. use but it doesn’t prevent others from using the name for their window washing service, albeit that might be a bad example because I’ve heard debate on whether actual dictionary defined words can actually be trademarked. Trademarks have to be vigorously defended so that society doesn’t become confused, otherwise they suffer the fate of Velcro and Kleenex in that they become genericized trademarks. The word “Hitbox” could be trademarked and that trademark could last indefinitely if appropriately maintained and repeatedly renewed.
Assuming it isn’t already, Hitbox layout would have likely need to be patented to prevent its use in other functional devices which requires all sorts of stringent requirements, including submitting a form with a design paper that has precise measurements of the hole cuts in the layout (probably like the sort you might find on slagcoin’s layout page), state the purpose of the design, cite all prior art that inspired the product’s creation, submitted in a timely manner ect. ect. Then there’s a period wherein sufficient modifications may render the patent invalid, albeit I’m not sure what qualifies as sufficient, albeit I’m sure there’s room for some margin of error otherwise almost no patent could be rendered enforceable. However just to give a general idea, here’s a funny little correspondence that highlights all of the funny little problems that can occur when trying to actually defend a patent.
A patent on a button layout would most likely last 20 years since it’s after June 8th 1995, while patents before that date typically last 17 years. As such most preexisting arcade game related patents would’ve expired by now since except perhaps for the most recent improvements on existing product. Also noteworthy is that most recent layouts have been devised in Japan, so what level of protection they might receive overseas in other jurisdictions is unknown to me. (I’m not a lawyer or anything, I’m just interested in the workings of rules and law. Also most discussion I have centers around copyright particularly, since I also have a [more] profuse interest in entertainment media.)
This oversimplifies the manner. You might not be able to patent an all button controller (not only because it already existed but because the concept itself is overly simplistic). However you can patent an improvement to something that already existed, say like the specific way the buttons are to be laid out for an all button controller.
The only way we’ll really be certain if the layout really is patented or not is If somebody could provide the U.S.P.T.O. file number (or an equivalent) since looking up the patent ourselves might prove rather difficult, considering there are a lot of inventions out there that need protecting. If patents or trademarks were filed, I think both would have to go through a period of pending in which case somebody could file a dispute so I don’t think it’s generally wise to go to market beforehand, albeit I think some protection is provided during the patent pending process.
Edit: Missed this part
I’m a bit hazy on precise details but generally speaking you can typically reuse stuff without asking. This is called patent exhaustion because the manufacturer’s interest in the distribution and use of a product is thought to be exhausted at the bill of sale.