Hey, wow! An online version of Scrabble, called Scrabulous, has Facebook users in an uproar of excitement. You'd think the big names behind Scrabble would be thrilled to see people enjoying a little online wordplay related to their classic board game.
But you'd be wrong. Hasbro (NYSE: HAS) and Mattel (NYSE: MAT), which between them own trademarks and copyrights to the game either here or abroad, are crying foul. They say that Scrabulous is an infringement, and they're trying to shut the game down.
Scrabulous was developed by two brothers from India, who claim they created the game because they couldn't find an authorized version they liked on the Web. They appeared to be doing something that most entrepreneurs are familiar with: identifying an opportunity to build a better mousetrap.
Hasbro and Mattel's reaction seems to overlook that Scrabulous may amount to free advertising for their board game. Given the massive popularity of other games, such as World of Warcraft or all the choices people have for popular consoles such as Nintendo's (OTC BB: NTDOY.PK) Wii, couldn't the attention that Scrabble gets out of this situation be a good thing?
Well, the Internet often seems to have a knack for irritating old-school companies. They generally don't see situations like this as beneficial for their businesses or brands. They view something like this as an annoyance at best, and threatening or downright illegal at worst.
Yet Scrabulous has 600,000 users every day, and it's one of the top 10 Facebook applications. (Facebook opened its site to third-party developers last May, similar to the third-party customization that News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS) MySpace has offered for years.) Inviting third-party developers aboard can help make an online world more exciting, and maybe even drum up some newfound appreciation for more traditional pastimes and brands.
If Scrabulous is a hit with Internet users, maybe Hasbro and Mattel would do well to drop the tough talk and try to work out a partnership. Facebook users are already canvassing the companies to save Scrabulous -- not to mention housing a petition on the game's Facebook site. I wonder how many points the word "martyr" is worth.
There's defending your intellectual property, and then there's admitting that you dropped the ball. What we have here are two companies focusing on the negative, annoying their consumers, and ignoring an opportunity. So maybe the low-scoring -- yet all too appropriate -- word to lay down on the board here is "dumb."