Remember when you ordered the Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys from an ad in the back of a comic book? When the enclosed brine shrimp were reanimated, you were quite disappointed that they did not resemble the picture in the ad, and they were awfully tiny. But still, there was something compelling about the idea of reanimating dried animals sent through the mail, and you cared for the little shrimp for as long as you could. Harold von Braunhut was the master of marketing who developed Sea-Monkeys, among many other ventures that weren’t quite as successful. When he died, he left the business to his wife, Yolanda Signorelli von Braunhut. For the last few years, Signorelli von Braunhut has been embroiled in a lawsuit against Big Time Toys, the distributor of Sea-Monkeys.
A few years after her husband’s death in 2003, Signorelli von Braunhut licensed out part of the labor of his multimillion dollar Sea-Monkey enterprise, mostly packaging and distribution, to Big Time. If you’ve ever been 8 years old, then you know that Sea-Monkeys arrive in a small plastic aquarium with several small packets that include the tiny brine-shrimp critters, which reanimate once you add water — by way of a secret formula that Signorelli von Braunhut keeps locked in a vault in Manhattan.
The original deal held that Big Time would supply everything except the specially engineered critters — and the accompanying packets, which von Braunhut would manufacture and sell separately to Big Time, which would then bundle the full kits and handle the sales. Also in the contract was a second deal — to buy the company, including the secret formula. It allowed Big Time to pay a straight-up $5 million fee and then $5 million more in installments. Three winters ago, Big Time called up the widow and announced that it considered its previous payments for the packets to be a kind of layaway deal for the company and that, as far as Big Time was concerned, it now owned the Sea-Monkey franchise.
On top of all that, court documents revealed that Big Time is now purchasing brine shrimp from China instead of using Braunhut’s proprietary breed of shrimp. An article at the New York Times looks deeper into the lawsuit, the lives of Harold and Yolanda von Braunhut, the history of Sea-Monkeys, and how the new knockoffs compare to the original Sea-Monkeys. -via Digg
(Image credit: Flickr use Tim Simpson)