Friday, April 11, 2008

The corporate game

Posted by Brad Mills
As club director, I am obligated to point out that Scrabble is a registered trademark owned by Hasbro in the United States and Canada, and JW Spear and Sons in the rest of the world.

Scrabble was invented by Alfred M. Butts in the 1930s. Butts, an unemployed architect and presumably a victim of the Great Depression, spent long hours combing over The New York Times studying letter frequencies. The distributions he unearthed eventually made their way into the game we all know and love. (With the exception of the letter S, which had its distribution skewed slightly due to its versatility.)

Though I'm sure Butts was eventually looking to sell the rights to his game (he was unemployed, after all), I'm fairly certain it was also, at some level, a labor of love. He tried several iterations of the game, he rearranged the premium squares, he tried moving the starting square to different places. The trial and error of alchemy until he found gold, perhaps figuratively rather than literally.

The game eventually passed into the hands of James Brunot, who grew it into a marketable property. It was licensed to Selchow and Righter, and in 1972, Selchow and Righter acquired the trademark outright. Selchow and Righter was purchased by Coleco, which was then purchased by Hasbro. And that is where Scrabble is today, and has been for almost twenty years.

Like most large manufacturers, Hasbro has a legal department to defend its intellectual property rights. Scrabble falls into that category. Uttering the word Scrabble in the board game sense without the little ® symbol next to it is blasphemy. (Even though that ® is very difficult to pronounce.)

We, as players, are passionate about this game. We form clubs, attend tournaments large and small, discuss strategy and word lists, debate etymology and the validity of words. Scrabble appeals to us naturally, as we are language-using creatures who search for patterns in chaos. A consequence of this passion is we form bonds with our fellow man over the board, and regard other players as brethren. Essentially, therefore, we regard the game as ours.

Our passion combines with Hasbro's hand-wringing to form a strange marriage. Hasbro has stockholders to satisfy, a bottom line to maintain, and Scrabble is an easy moneymaker.

We just want to play, and we love to do so.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad that Hasbro stopped trying to go after the online games. It sort of reminded me how FOX went after the X-Files fan sites too aggressively when their fans were the heart and blood of that shows success. IP in the digital age is a funny thing. As a lawyer who took some of those classes (because Akron had a great IP program) I find the issues where law and technology collide to be very interesting.

    Very nice write-up man. And I can never pronounce that little R in the circle either (I don't even know how you got it to show up).


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