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Brouhaha Over Rights to ‘The Game of Life’

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The man who invented, or re-invented, "The Game of Life" board game claims Hasbro and Linkletter Holdings cheated him of royalties by licensing the game for a TV show and slot machines.

Markham Concepts sued Rueben Klamer, Linkletter Holdings and Hasbro on July 7 in Federal Court, alleging conspiracy, copyright infringement and eight other counts. Klamer, a California businessman, is successor in interest to Link Research & Development Corp., a dissolved California corporation founded by Art Linkletter, Klamer and Irvin Atkins.

Bill Markham created "Life" in 1959 and sold licensing rights to Link Research, which licensed it to Milton Bradley, which released the game in 1960, according to the complaint.

Children loved it because it was the first mass-produced board game in which they spun a clicking wheel to see how many spaces they could advance, rather than rolling dice.

Bill Markham died in 1993. His widow Lorraine Markham is president of Markham Concepts, and says she controls her husband's intellectual property. She describes him in the complaint as "a prolific game and toy inventor who in 1959 created the iconic game. Bill Markham was the 'author' of the game as that term is defined under United States copyright law."

(Hasbro, which reported $713.5 million in net revenue in the first quarter of 2015, may cite toy historians if it fights the claim. Milton Bradley himself invented "The Checkered Game of Life" in 1860, according to a 2007 article by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker.

(Other toy historians say that Bradley, a lithographer, was in financial straits, as his best-selling product at the time was a portrait of a clean-shaven Abe Lincoln. When President Lincoln grew a beard, Bradley needed a new product. He invented the game and printed it up, and it was a smash, selling 45,000 copies in its first year and putting him into the game business.

(Some accounts say that Milton Bradley asked for a new version of the game to celebrate its 100th anniversary, and credit defendant Klamer as a co-inventor.)

According to Markham's complaint, Bill Markham invented the game and sold licensing rights to Klamer, president of Link Research & Development, who licensed the game to Milton Bradley for 6 percent royalty and $5,000 advance.

Markham's widow claims that Markham assigned his rights to Link Research for 30 percent of total royalties and 30 percent of the advance, credit as the game's designer on the packaging, and the right to know about any proposed changes to the game.

In 2003, Linkletter and Klamer sold Hasbro exclusive rights to produce a television game show based on The Game of Life, despite Markham's copyright, the complaint states.

Klamer was the executive producer of the show, which was hosted by comedian Frank Nicotero and broadcast on the Hub Network from 2011 to 2014.

Each 30-minute episode featured two families driving a Game of Life car around the "board" and answering questions for points. The team with the most points got to spin the Game of Life spinner for a chance at the grand prize.

Neither Nicotero nor Hub Network are parties to the complaint.

Hasbro licensed the game to WMS Gamin in 2009 to develop Game of Life slot machines, Markham says.

Markham claims Hasbro entered these agreements without its consent, and never "consulted with plaintiff, obtained a license from plaintiff, or paid royalties or option contract fees to plaintiff."

It claims that Hasbro has "purported" to enter into other licensing agreements, which are "beyond the scope of its rights under the license agreement and the assignment agreement, and, hence, like the TV option and the gambling license, constitute a violation and infringement of plaintiff's intellectual property rights to the game."

Markham adds: "Defendants believe, on the other hand, that they, or some of them, own and/or have some right to the renewal term of copyright in the game."

Worse, Markham says, the defendants are "denying Bill Markham's authorship of the game, registering the game as a 'work made for hire.'"

Hasbro did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The other defendants could not be contacted.

Markham Concepts seeks declaratory judgment that it is the sole copyright owner of The Game of Life, an accounting, an injunction, disgorgement, and punitive damages for copyright infringement, conspiracy, contributory copyright infringement, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract and other charges. Alternatively, it seeks $150,000 for each instance of infringement.

Markham is represented by James Little of Marina del Rey, who did not immediately return a request for comment.

The modern version of Life hit the shelves in March 1960. Art Linkletter, best known for hosting the TV shows "House Party" and "Kids Say the Darndest Things," was hired to endorse the game, according to the Toy Hall of Fame website.

The game has been modified several times since publication and has inspired several spinoff adaptations, including Pirates of the Caribbean, The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars.

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