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The Board Game Trial of the Century

We recently linked had the story of how the game Monopoly was born, tracing it to Elizabeth Magie’s The Landlord’s Game, which she patented in 1903. Parker Brothers bought the rights to a derivative game in the ‘30s from Charles Darrow, then bought the rights to Magie’s game for $500 -and destroyed it. Skip ahead 40 years, and we have the story of Ralph Anspach, who challenged Parker Brother’s rights over the game and uncovered Magie’s story.  

Anspach, an economics professor, developed the game Anti-Monopoly. It was designed, like The Landlord’s Game, in order to teach an alternative to cutthroat economic competition that leads to monopolies. But Parker brothers did not like it one bit.

Anspach hired a lawyer and began looking into whether Parker Brothers was, in a moment of supreme irony, committing an antitrust violation against Anti-Monopoly. They reasoned that a common trait of monopolies was to use legal threats to scare off competition. Depositions ensued, and though Anspach held his own against the Parker Brothers legal team, he was a teacher of modest means and they were a multimillion-dollar corporation with a lot to lose. The idea of going through with the lawsuit seemed crazy.

It was, therefore, a revelation when Anspach’s son happened upon a passage in a book noting that Charles Darrow hadn’t actually invented Monopoly. If a Monopoly board game preceded Charles Darrow’s 1935 patent, that patent might be overturned. Monopoly might, in fact, be built on a house of Chance cards. It might be in the public domain.

What followed was a long legal battle over whether Parker Brothers could keep a monopoly on Monopoly. Read what happened in the battle between one man and a corporation with a team of lawyers at mental_floss.

(Image credit: Flickr user Christian Bucad)


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