It all began with a puzzle-loving software engineer named Alexey Pajitnov, who created "Tetris" in 1984 while working for the Dorodnitsyn Computing Centre of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, a research and development center in Moscow created by the government. Pajitnov didn't intend to make money from his creation; he designed the game "for fun," Brown told Live Science. "He was doing this just to see if he could do it," Brown said. Pajitnov was inspired by a puzzle game called "pentominoes," in which different wooden shapes made of five equal squares are assembled in a box. Brown wrote that Pajitnov imagined the shapes falling from above into a glass, with players controlling the shapes and guiding them into place. Pajitnov adapted the shapes to four squares each and programmed the game in his spare time, dubbing it "Tetris." The name combined the Latin word "tetra" — the numerical prefix "four," for the four squares of each puzzle piece — and "tennis," Pajitnov's favorite game.

Pitcure of Alexey Pajitnov

Stein's agreement with Elorg covered "Tetris" licensing only for personal computers, not coin-operated machines or handheld devices. But Stein told U.K. distributor Mirrorsoft that these rights would soon be in hand, and Mirrorsoft proceeded to ink licensing deals with game companies Atari and Sega in Japan for arcade kiosks and home-gaming consoles. BulletProof Software's Henk Rogers also had his eye on brokering "Tetris" deals in Japan, and secured rights for "Tetris" distribution on computers and consoles for Nintendo, through the U.S. distributor, Spectrum HoloByte. However, the legal owner of "Tetris," the Soviet agency Elorg, knew nothing of these deals, Brown wrote. The only contract the agency had signed was the deal with Stein covering computer rights, and nothing else.

The earliest versions of Tetris had no music. The NES version includes two original compositions by Hirokazu Tanaka along with an arrangement of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" from the second act of The Nutcracker, composed by Tchaikovsky. The Blue Planet Software and Tengen versions also feature original music, with the exception of an arrangement of "Kalinka" in the Tengen version. Nintendo's Game Boy version includes three pieces of music as well: "Korobeiniki", Johann Sebastian Bach's French Suite No. 3 In B Minor (BWV 814), and an original track by Tanaka. "Korobeiniki" is used in most later versions of the game, and has appeared in other games, albums and films that make reference to Tetris. In the 2000s, The Tetris Company added as a prerequisite for the granting of the license that a version of "Korobeiniki" be available in the game.

Through the legal history of the license, Pajitnov gained a reputation in the West. He was regularly invited by journalists and publishers, through which he discovered that his game had sold millions of copies, from which he had not made any money. However, he remained humble and proud of the game, which he considered "an electronic ambassador of benevolence". In January 1990, Pajitnov was invited by Spectrum HoloByte to the Consumer Electronics Show, and was immersed in American life for the first time. After a period of adaptation, he explored American culture in several cities, including Las Vegas, San Francisco, New York City and Boston, and engaged in interviews with several hosts, including the directors of Nintendo of America. He marveled at the freedom and the advantages of Western society, and spoke often of his travels to his colleagues upon returning to the Soviet Union. He realized that there was no market in Russia for their programs. At the same time, sales of the Game Boy – bundled with a handheld version of Tetris – exploded, exceeding sales forecasts three times. In 1991, Pajitnov and Pokhilko emigrated to the United States. Pajitnov moved to Seattle, where he produced games for Spectrum HoloByte. In April 1996, as agreed with the Academy ten years earlier and following an agreement with Rogers, the rights to Tetris reverted to Pajitnov. Pajitnov and Rogers founded The Tetris Company in June 1996 to manage the rights on all platforms, the previous agreements having expired. Pajitnov now receives a royalty for each Tetris game and derivative sold worldwide. In 2002, Pajitnov and Rogers founded Tetris Holding after the purchase of the game's remaining rights from Elorg, now a private entity following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Tetris Company now owns all rights to the Tetris brand, and is mainly responsible for removing unlicensed clones from the market; the company regularly calls on Apple Inc. and Google to remove illegal versions from their mobile app stores. In December 2005, Electronic Arts acquired Jamdat, a company specializing in mobile games. Jamdat had previously bought a company founded by Rogers in 2001, which managed the Tetris license on mobile platforms. As a result, Electronic Arts held a 15-year license on all mobile phone releases of Tetris, which expired on April 21, 2020.