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Who created The Game of Life? Court aims to find out

The Associated Press
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In this Nov. 11, 2015 file photo, the Hasbro board game 'The Game of Life' rests on a shelf in a toy store in North Attleboro, Mass. A trial begins Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, in federal court in Los Angeles over who invented the game and who owns the rights to it.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Who will win The Game of Life?

Testimony is scheduled to begin Thursday in federal court in Los Angeles in a lawsuit over who owns the rights to one of the most popular board games of all time.

The widow of a toy inventor says her husband, Bill Markham, has been denied his legacy of creating The Game of Life, after another man, Reuben Klamer, took full credit for it. Lorraine Markham also says she was cut out of more than $2 million in royalties by Klamer and Rhode Island-based toy company Hasbro.

Since the game was created in 1959, Markham’s contributions to the development of the game have been minimized and ultimately eliminated from the history books, Markham’s lawyers wrote in a pre-trial filing.

“What was once a great partnership between Markham, a toy and game designer, and Klamer, a savvy marketer and promoter, has been tarnished by Klamer’s unrelenting quest to steal the credit of developing the game for himself,” they wrote.

Both Hasbro and Klamer dispute that, arguing that Markham was merely hired by Klamer to create a prototype. Klamer owned a company with TV personality Art Linkletter, and the company was asked by Milton Bradley to come up with a game to mark the game maker’s 100th anniversary in 1960.

Klamer said he went into Milton Bradley’s archives and found the company’s first game, The Checkered Game of Life, which he said served as the inspiration to develop the game that is now called The Game of Life, according to court papers.

They also argue that other people helped Markham with the game’s design, and that the game has changed significantly since the prototype Markham developed.

The Game of Life was different from other games at the time because it featured a three-dimensional board with a circuitous track, rather than a track around the outside of the board. Players spun a clicking wheel, rather than rolling dice. Players would then travel along the track in a car, marking life events such as getting married, having children and buying insurance. At the end, the richest player wins.

The game has sold more than 30 million copies, and been spun off into an iPhone app, TV show, gambling and other ventures. It has been displayed at the Smithsonian Institution and was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2010.

The lawsuit was filed in Rhode Island in 2015. This week’s testimony will center on the limited question of who owns rights to the game.

U.S. District Judge William Smith agreed to hold a partial bench trial in Los Angeles because of the age of many of the witnesses, according to Frank Perry, chief deputy clerk in the U.S. District Court in Providence. Perry said a final ruling would most likely happen at the conclusion of the entire case, which could eventually include a trial by jury.

Markham wants a declaration that her late husband was the sole inventor and creator of the game. She also wants the right to terminate all licensing agreements for the game, as well as a right to all future royalties.

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