How Could A Game That Has Made Scrabble Popular Again Be A 'Bad Precedent' For Mattel?

from the please-explain dept

Back in January, we explored the news that both Hasbro and Mattel (who own the rights to the board game Scrabble in different regions) were upset and threatening to sue about the incredibly popular knockoff version Scrabulous on Facebook. As we pointed out at the time, shutting down the game would quickly piss off 2.3 million Scrabble fans -- many of whom were interested in the game for the first time, most likely leading to real sales of the board game. While the situation still has not been resolved (and Scrabulous remains online), the New York Times has the latest details that suggest that Real Networks is negotiating with Scrabulous' creators. Since Real has a deal to produce an online version of Scrabble (the article first says the deal is with Hasbro, and later says it's with Mattel, so it's not clear who the deal is with), perhaps this will all be worked out for the best. However, the article does mention that executives from Mattel are against the idea of settling with the creators of Scrabulous, fearing that it "would set a bad precedent."

That's lawyers speaking, not marketers. How could a fun online game that has rejuvenated interest in what was seen as a rather dull board game among many folks today, be considered a "bad precedent?" How could having millions of new fans of your game and treating them right, rather than depriving them of what they want be considered a "bad precedent?" Some may answer that the "bad precedent" would be that it would encourage others to create similar knockoffs of other Mattel games, but, again, if they drove as much interest in the originals as Scrabulous did, isn't that a good thing? Some may claim that it would deprive Mattel the opportunity to license the games for lots of money, but again looking at Scrabble as an example, the bigger fear for Mattel should have been the fact that many people didn't care about the game at all. By letting random people create the games for it, it can quickly determine which games work well online and then work with the creators of those games to put an official stamp on it. The Agarwalla brothers created this game at no cost to Mattel, who otherwise would have spent a ton of money to create it after which it might not have caught on in the same way Scrabulous did. This way the game has been created, tested and even built up an audience at no cost to Mattel. Shouldn't they consider that to be a good thing?
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Filed Under: board games, promotions, scrabble, scrabulous
Companies: hasbro, mattel, real networks


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  1. icon
    Mike (profile), 3 Mar 2008 @ 3:05pm

    Re: The problem is the potential loss of intellect

    The author seems to suggest that companies are short-sighted when they attempt to assert their intellectual property rights, reasoning that they would be better off financially if they didn't. That argument is short-sighted and does not recognize the realities of intellectual property law.

    I'm quite familiar with the realities of intellectual property law. In fact, we were just discussing it:

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080228/003450379.shtml

    The idea that they have to sue is a myth. It's one way for lazy lawyers to cover themselves. They don't have to sue.

    IP owners must, by law, exert their claim on intellectual property or they stand to lose their claim on it.

    For trademark they need to make reasonable efforts to keep the term from going generic. That does not apply to other types of IP, and making reasonable efforts certainly can involve working out a deal with those who have been promoting your brand for free -- not necessarily suing them.

    Calling companies greedy or short-sighted for asserting a claim on their intellectual property is to argue that they should voluntarily cede those rights to anyone who wants them.

    That is not what I said and that's not what the law says. What I said was that they should recognize the promotional value provided by this game and work out a deal to allow them to continue promoting the physical board game.

    If Mattel and Hasbro do not bring suit for the unlicensed use of their property, they risk letting "Scrabble" become just another generic consumer product like the formerly protected property linoleum, zipper, and aspirin.

    Again, reasonable efforts need not involve a lawsuit.

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