At Mansueto Ventures, parent company of Inc. and Fast Company, CFO Mark Rosenberg plays a mean game of Scrabble. Mean not as in an average game, but mean as in he will destroy you. One session with him could yield as many as five seven-letter words, each adding a devastating fifty points to his already hefty score. Rosenberg excels at a game that combines cognitive skills in both the language centers of the brain and the bits and pieces that deal with mathematics. This week's American Inventor highlighted Michael Osayi, a 53-year-old call center employee who had developed a version of the beloved national pastime that substituted numerals through nine for variously valued letters and called some legal issues into question.
At the time of his audition, Osayi's Scramblers 10 caught heat for intellectual property concerns. Croce advised Osayi to seek legal counsel before taking his game to market. After Osayi walked away, Croce felt stomach pains and said, "he has no clue what he's up against." As mentioned many times before in these blogs about the show, a scary proportion of these aspiring inventors are sadly ignorant about our nation's patent, copyright, and trademark laws. Game developers should worry about all three. Pop quiz, dear reader. Do you have a basic knowledge of Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution that will at least help you see what flags might get your product or design into trouble?
You might know that there are three types of patents: utility (protection for new, nonobvious inventions), design (a design that is new but nonfunctional), and plant (covering asexually reproducing flora). According to the USPTO, Scrabble was registered and trademarked in December 1948 under Class 273 (games), subclass 272 (word-forming). Trademark laws protect names, designs, logos, and other identifiers and last as long as the company keeps the product or service in commerce. Can you identify on what toes Osayi might be infringing? It's probably not the plant patent. His game requires players to lay tiles in any combination that sum up to ten. I'm no lawyer, but it seems like the actual concept of the game is very different from that behind Scrabble where letters are rearranged to spell words and points are awarded based on careful mapping of the letters on the design of the board. Osayi's logo and box design, on the other hand, are not unique. What do you think?