Judge Hears Spat Over Who Invented ‘Game of Life’

A federal trial began in Los Angeles on Nov. 16, 2017, over who invented Hasbro’s “The Game of Life,” pictured here on a shelf in a North Attleboro, Mass., toy store. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A germ of an idea that turned into the popular “The Game of Life” board game has taken center stage in a federal courtroom, in the trial of a lawsuit brought by a toy inventor’s widow who says her husband is the sole copyright owner.

Lorraine Markham claims in a lawsuit filed in 2015 that her late husband Bill took an idea presented by another toy inventer, Reuben Klamer, and created a far different board game that we know now as “The Game of Life.”

But Markham has been cut out of receiving royalties from the game, his widow’s attorney Robert Pollaro with Codwalader, Wickersham & Taft told a judge during a bench trial going on now in LA federal court.

Markham’s widow claims her husband did not receive royalties from Hasbro for his contribution to the game, which she pegs at more than $2 million. She says Hasbro – which took over Milton Bradley in 1984 – stopped putting her husband’s royalties into an escrow account.

She seeks a declaration her husband is the sole creator of “The Game of Life,” and the right to terminate all agreements and to future royalties. Both Hasbro and Klamer have countersued.

This past week, Klamer took the witness stand to explain how he created the board game. Three other witnesses also testified before U.S. District Judge William Smith, who ordered a bench trial due to the advanced ages of the witnesses.

Klamer testified he was approached by Milton Bradley in 1959 to create a board game celebrating the toy company’s 100th anniversary. The 95-year-old said he was inspired to create a board game that did not have a track around the board and did not use dice.

“I had an idea the next morning after I visited the archives” at Milton Bradley, Klamer testified. “I wanted to create an adult game – a family game.” He said he found a game idea in the archives called “The Checkered Game of Life.”

“The name of the game thrilled me,” he said.

His and Hasbro’s attorney, Patty Glaser of Glaser Weil, asked who invented “The Game of Life.”

“I did,” Klamer said.

She asked him to review the notes he made on the flight home after that first meeting with Milton Bradley in 1959.

He testified the notes were to synthesize his ideas of the game, which wanted to be different from “Monopoly” so he avoided a round track. He employed a spinner used to move players across the circuitous board instead of dice, since Milton Bradley wanted to avoid any comparison to gambling.

Klamer also wrote down names of artists and others who might work on a prototype. One of those names included Bill Markham.

After Klamer finished his testimony, the court heard from Grace Falco Chambers, a former artist who worked at Markham’s company California Product Development. Chambers testified she was heavily involved in creating the prototype of “Life.”

Chambers said she primarily worked on art for commercial advertising at Markham’s company before Klamer approached Markham with the game idea, and did not work in toy design before that.

“Neither did the Markhams,” Chambers said. “Klamer brought us the parameters of the game. A game that would represent life as it was, but it would have to be fun and for all ages.”

Another of Klamer’s attorneys, Erica Van Loon of Glaser Weil, asked Chambers what Klamer’s role in was in designing the prototype.

“He was there a lot,” she said. “He came twice a week. Many times he didn’t like certain things and he would tell us.”

When asked if she changed things if Klamer wanted changes, Chambers said: “Yes, because it was his project. He brought it to us.”

The trial ended Nov. 17, after two days and just three witnesses.

“The Game of Life” features milestones or goals that include getting married and starting a family, and the person with the most money at the end of the game wins. Since its inception in 1960, the game has gone on to become a TV game show, mobile game and has sold over 30 million copies, according to Lorraine Markham’s lawsuit.

 

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