In the 90’s I came up with an idea for a magic pizza where a tiny pizza could become real big. I checked on producing it and it would have cost $20,000. I ran a tight one man business where most profits went into making my shows and activities better, so that was a no go.
Steve Axtell, owner of Axtell Expressions: good guy and brilliant puppet concept creator, had a similar idea: an appearing, disappearing pizza. I gave him the rights so he could combine it with his idea in exchange for my next puppet and my name included in some of the literature.
I never looked back, and when Pop Cellar Dweller came in I was very happy: a blue gator with pink fur. Pop was always a hit in my shows.
When I watched the PBS special on the game Monopoly I was reminded of that exchange, only Parker Brothers made Steve look even better. Parker, on the other hand, came across as a villain.
Parker claimed the idea for Monopoly came from “inventor” Charlie Darrow. The problem is Charlie invented nothing. The idea was appropriated from one Lizzie Magie who ended up dying destitute. When they found out Lizzie was the original own of the trademark for what became Monopoly they kept their deal making hush hush, promised to produce her game with her name on it, and picture. They didn’t market it, really. Pretty much made damn sure her game would fail.
All of this might have been forgotten except what they tried to do years later.
Zoom forward to the 70’s and Ralph Anspach had a problem with Monopoly. He felt it taught greed and the very false lesson that everyone starts at the same place socially, economically and in their ability to achieve. Taught the only thing that separates us is talent. So Ralph created Anti-Monopoly: a game that taught the opposite.
Parker sued. Sued over a game that was actually appropriated from Lizzie Magie by Darrow. A game they had been promoting a lie about while covering over their tracks regarding Lizzie. Sued to crush this very small business started by Ralph.
Many years later, and at heavy cost to Anspach, the Supreme Court ruled in Ralph’s favor and Parker had to pay his court costs, pay for games they demanded be destroyed. He could sell the game again. Of course after all that the game has mostly vanished.
This was no one off limited to game boards. Another example of big business trying to destroy small was when Avanti merely planned on building the Studebaker XUV, including a mockup. GM sued.
When Chrysler created the Chevy Panel Van-like
PT Cruiser did they sue? No. When GM created the almost visual clone of the PT, the HHR, did they sue? No.
Hey, what’s a little theft between corporate biggies? But how dare tiny, struggling Avanti have a vehicle in development that looked like the Hummer???
No demand to make it a little less like the Hummer? No demand just to pay something for the rights, or GM gets some back from each one sold? Avanti was GM paying for the right to use their drivetrains. Seems they were at least halfway to a high end market collaboration. Like brewers, seems a collaboration could have helped both instead of trying to put the small struggling company out of business.
I used to visit Avanti in Villa Rica, Georgia, when they were there. The manager swore (literally and figuratively) he would never buy GM engines and transmissions again for their vehicles. That was the start of Avanti’s slide into automotive oblivion. All starting with GM’s being a bastard.
Remember I mentioned brewers? Big biz Hershey’s sued a tiny brewery because they used “Hershey’s Milk Duds” in the name for one of their beers. Something they obviously they shouldn’t have done.
Like the Studebaker XUV fiasco, even though you would think smart business owners would realize every time product is sold it promotes their company, they were sued. You would think there would be room for both companies to create more profit: collaboration, work out an agreement. The only answer had to be severe punishment and beating a small business to death financially?
Here’s how punitive it got. Their lawyers demanded the brewery stop doing the name. They did. Then they demanded the brewery dump all the beer rather than rebranding it. Seems somewhat punitive, but whatever. Then they demanded thousands of dollars which could have bankrupted the small brewery.
Way too vindictive, Hershey.
Another case: Magic Hat sued 6th Street Brewery in Lexington, KY, because their logo for their 6th beer was “too much like Magic Hat 9.” Yes, because a “6” is exactly like a “9.” And all that weird stuff inside the frame of 9, and just a hashtag and a “6” make the logos “exactly alike.”
I absolutely believe trademarks and copyrights should have strong legal standing. I also believe in competition-based capitalism, and companies out to destroy upstarts by whatever means are not that.
It’s called seeking more of a monopoly.
So many lost opportunities. Seems good business sense has died among the biggest corporations, and corporate ethics no more than an oxymoron.
“Inspection” is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 50 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions.
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