Hearing the news that Hasbro succeeded today in shutting down Scrabulous for apparent infringement of its intellectual property rights, I found it necessary to weigh in on the debate. For those that don’t know the saga of the dispute between Hasbro and two Indian national brothers who developed the wildly popular Facebook application, it is summarized here. In this ongoing legal dispute, Hasbro, the maker of Scrabble(r) and owner of the intellectual property rights for this iconic game, contends that the online Scrabbulous game on Facebook infringes its copyright and trademark rights.
While Hasbro is well within its rights to go after violators of its intellectual property, as an intellectual property strategist (more info here: http://www.jackiehutter.com/), it seems to me that Hasbro may be making a huge mistake by taking an aggressive intellectual property enforcement strategy. There are apparently as many as 1/2 million players of Scrabulous on Facebook in a single day. I would venture a guess that there are not this many players of the board game version of Scrabble in a single week. These players of the board game are likely not young–in my experience, the board game version of Scrabble is generally a game for older folks like my elderly mother-in-law. It thus appears that Scrabulous has opened up a huge new player base for this classic game.
Also, this huge new player base would seem to set up the opportunity for an ongoing revenue stream that does not traditionally exist for board games. Once someone buys the Scrabble board game, a user’s transaction with Hasbro is finished. That user can play Scrabble to his heart’s content, and Hasbro will not gain any financial benefit from that continued play. Continued online play of course provides an imense new opportunity to generate revenue on a continuous basis, and it does not seem sensible that Hasbro would not want to get on this “gravy train.”