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July 25, 2008 5:46 PM

Will Hasbro Suit Spell D-O-O-M For Scrabulous?

Posted by Jonathan Thrope

Hasbro Inc. gave Facebook more than six months to make a move, but finally got tired of waiting.

Yesterday Hasbro, which owns the North American rights to Scrabble, filed suit in the Southern District of New York against the makers of Scrabulous, a popular Scrabble-like game application on Facebook, alleging copyright and trademark infringement. At the same time, the company also sent an informal DMCA notice to Facebook, requesting the site to take down the application. The notice gives Facebook several days to remove Scrabulous without subsequently being held liable for the application. As of 5 p.m. Friday, the social networking site was still hosting the game.

In a prepared statement, a Facebook spokeswoman said, in part: "Over the past year, Facebook has tried to use its status as a neutral platform provider to help the parties come to an amicable agreement. We're disappointed that Hasbro has sought to draw us into their dispute. Nevertheless, we have forwarded their concerns to Scrabulous and requested their appropriate response."

Hasbro previously asked Facebook to remove the application in a January letter. Facebook did not comply with the request. 

Brothers Rajat Agarwalla and Jayant Agarwalla, of RJ Softwares in India, who launched the on-line scrabble application in July 2006, were the named defendants in the suit filed by partner Kim Landsman and associate John Knapp of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler yesterday.

The complaint alleges that the defendants have infringed on both the Scrabble crossword game and the official Scrabble Players Dictionary. Among its claims: "The 'Scrabulous' game board consists of the identical pattern, colors, and award values of bonus squares as the SCRABBlE board."

"On merits of the case itself, I think they've got a strong caseā€¦both from a trademark and copyright perspective. Whether it's a good idea to do so is another question," says Doug Masters, cochair of the IP practice at Loeb & Loeb, who is following but not involved in the suit. "There seems to be a good amount of enthusiasm towards Scrabulous that has revived interest in Scrabble. You certainly don't want to dampen that enthusiasm in the name of trademark infringement." Masters said he was surprised that Hasbro didn't work out some sort of deal with the Agarwalla brothers to avoid litigation.

Two weeks ago, Hasbro launched its own Scrabble application on Facebook with the help of EA Electronics, though Scrabulous remains far more popular. Scrabulous boasts more than 500,000 daily active users while Hasbro's Scrabble application now has just over 10,000. 

That's 35,000 less than the "Save Scabrulous" group.

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hasbro must be out of its mind. just who does their board of directors consult? what a PR nightmare they have created in the name of IP protection. I am an older guy myself, in my early 60;s - but I have recognized that the world has changed a lot and so must companies if they want to survive any better than the record industry. everyone 30 and younger expects, right or wrong, software to be free and available. If hasbro can't win on the merits in the marketplace, they won't win at all. plus the publicity and hostility they are reaping for their less-than-smart decision to sue is mind-boggingly negative. I feel sorry for the guys at Patteron Belknap who have to pretend that they are saving the country from oblivion. Obviously, a nasty position to have to assert while pretending they are riding on the white horse of decency.

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