Parker Brothers is trying to keep El Cajon-based Elusive Dream Marketing Service from passing go and collecting $200.
The Beverly, Mass.-based game manufacturer on Tuesday filed a trademark infringement suit in New York against Elusive Dream, which manufactures about 60 “Cityopoly” board games that, the suit alleges, copy “distinctive elements” of Monopoly, the venerable board game that was introduced in 1935.
Parker Brothers’ suit caught Elusive Dream executives off guard. “We’re totally unaware of it,” Tom Magee, a spokesman for the company, said Tuesday. “We’ve heard nothing about a lawsuit.”
“They just want us out of business,” said Arthur Mitchell, vice president of Elusive Dream. “But we plan to fight . . . we’ve got a little war chest built up.” Mitchell said his company recently won the first round of a similar lawsuit that Parker Brothers filed in Canada.
The suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New York seeks an injunction that would prohibit the sale of Cityopoly games--including Big Appleopoly and Atlantaopoly at stores including F.A.O. Schwartz and Saks Fifth Avenue. Parker Brothers also is seeking unspecified monetary damages from Elusive Dreams and stores that sell the games, said Arthur Greenbaum, a New York attorney who represents Parker Brothers.
While Parker Brothers insists that it has a monopoly on Monopoly-like games, the manufacturer doesn’t necessarily want to send every imitator directly to jail without passing go. “Many people have had the idea of a board game based on local businesses,” Greenbaum said. “That’s not new, it’s something that’s been around for a long time.”
Parker Brothers doesn’t initiate legal action against board games that are “sufficiently different in appearance so as to avoid confusion,” Greenbaum said.
But the company does, on occasion, seek injunctions that prohibit the sale of games that borrow too heavily from Monopoly. “You’ve got to use a little common sense,” Greenbaum said. “It’s just like playing the board game--you’ve got to have a strategy.”
Greenbaum said that the Cityopoly games cross the fine line between imitation and duplication. “If someone puts out a game and calls it something else, but adopts all of (Monopoly’s identifying characteristics) we would object to it, as Parker Brothers has here,” Greenbaum said.
Parker Brothers spokeswoman Pat McGovern said the toy manufacturer has been monitoring the Cityopoly board games since early 1989, when San Diego resident Shawn Chapin began marketing board games that were based upon landmarks and streets in San Diego and La Jolla. Chapin has acknowledged that she borrowed the Cityopoly idea from a friend who previously had marketed Mauiopoly, which used landmarks from Maui in Hawaii.
“We took over from Shawn about 15 months ago . . . and we’re in 60 cities and three countries now,” Mitchell said. “People have been doing this for 15 years . . . but we’re the only ones to have been successful with it, we’re the only ones with the (capital) to have a major impact.”
Mitchell complained that Parker Brothers is using its considerable financial might to squash a much smaller company that has taken pains to distinguish its board games from Monopoly. “It’s like the hamburger,” Mitchell said. “McDonald’s didn’t get mad because Jack in the Box found a way to make better hamburgers.”
The board games evidently are popular. A clerk at F.A.O. Schwartz in New York on Tuesday reported that the store was out of Big Appleopoly games. “You’ll have to settle for Atlantaopoly,” she said.
Staff writer Bernice Hirabayashi in San Diego contributed to this report.