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Nov/Dec 1998 issue (#36)

Go to Court, Go Directly to Court

Do not be afraid of big companies. Do not wait for book publishers

by Doug Collins, the Free Press

Ralph Anspach in 1983 in the US Supreme Court won a trademark lawsuit that was brought against him for using the word "Monopoly" in the name of his "Anti-Monopoly" board game. Anspach's game is a trust-busting parody of the famous Parker Brothers' Monopoly board game. Anspach, a Bay-area economics professor, fought a nine-year legal battle with General Mills (then the owner of Parker Brothers), and won the right to trademark the name "Anti-Monopoly" and the suffix "-opoly" which the company had previously prevented other gamemakers from using. The court's decision also eroded the company's claim to owning a patent on the Monopoly game.

After analyzing the court ruling, Anspach remarks, "I've concluded that the only rights left [that the company retains] are some of the artwork." The US Supreme Court found that Clarence Darrow, the so-called inventor of Monopoly, was in fact taught the game by Quakers in Atlantic City. The game had become popular among Quakers by the 1930s, prior to its commercialization by Parker Brothers.

Although Anspach's Anti-Monopoly game differs considerably in details from The Parker Brothers version, in theory the Supreme Court decision opens the door to people who could start selling independent productions of essentially the same classic Parker Brothers version of Monopoly. Just as chess or checkers are in the public domain, the monopoly game (lower-case "m", as the Quakers insisted) has become largely public domain, but only through Anspach's court battles.

In fact, Anspach plans next year to start releasing the game "Original-opoly," an exact replica of the original monopoly game played by Quakers and socialists early this century (there are still some game boards left from the era). Original-opoly is similar to the Parker Brothers version.

Anspach is not worried about another legal challenge from Parker Brothers. "I have informed the Monopoly [Parker Brothers] people of what I plan to do and they haven't responded for months, so I guess they can't do anything now," says Anspach.

Still, Anspach is shying away from actually using the full word "Monopoly" in the main title of the Original-opoly game, because Parker Brothers claims that it still has a trademark on the single-word name "Monopoly". Although this trademark may be challengeable in court, Anspach says he is not eager to be tied up in court for another ten years, as he was with the name "Anti-Monopoly". The subtitle of Original-opoly will, however, read "The Authentic but Heretofore Supressed Monopoly Game."

The Microsoft of Board Games

Naming his games has been difficult for Anspach because of Parker Brothers tenacious claims to trademark names, but selling his games has become the main problem recently. After winning the trademark case, Anspach marketed his Anti-Monopoly game for years with some success via gamemaking company Talicor. But in recent years, sales have dived. The reason, Anspach asserts, is monopolistic practices by the maker of Monopoly, Hasbro toys, which now owns Parker Brothers. Anspach has taken the legal offense. He has filed an anti-trust suit against Hasbro, the current owner of Parker Brothers, for monopolizing the board-game market.

"Hasbro is the Microsoft of board games.... If you go to Toys R Us you'll see that more than 80% of the board games there are Hasbro," according to Anspach.

Using legal battles and small-business skills, Ralph Anspach is forcing the Monopoly game patent out of private ownership and restoring it into the public domain


The suit recently lost in a New York federal court, but Anspach is attempting to appeal it to the US Supreme Court.

"One of the reasons we're doing this is that Hasbro lowered its prices enormously and was wiping us out." Anspach points out that sales of his Anti-Monopoly game, which is sold in FAO Schwarz and other retailers, plummeted as Hasbro slashed prices for Monopoly and its other board games, effectively forcing smaller competing board-game makers out of the market. "This is a quintessential American story," remarks Anspach, "where the company that is making Monopoly is itself a monopoly."

Anspach has written his account of the history, fraud, and legal battles surrounding the Monopoly game in his book, The Billion Dollar Monopoly Swindle. Although he has convinced Talicor of the worthiness of selling his game ideas, Anspach has had less luck convincing publishers about his book. "I'm self-publishing this book because the book publishers are afraid of getting sued."

See the box on this page for ordering information on Anspach's book, and availability information for his Anti-Monopoly game.

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