Struggle over The Game of Life sparks lawsuit; toy inventor’s widow says she was cut out

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The Game of Life is known for turning events such as marriage, going to college and paying for auto insurance into moves on a board. Now, it’s at the centre of a different real-world experience: a lawsuit.

The widow of a toy inventor said Hasbro and another inventor worked together to cut her out of $2 million in royalties and possibly much more from one of the most popular board games in history. Lorraine Markham also said her husband, Bill Markham, has been denied his legacy of creating the game after the other man, Reuben Klamer, took full credit for it.

Markham is seeking a declaration from the U.S. District Court in Providence that her husband was the sole creator of the game and that the company he left her owns the game outright. The lawsuit, filed last month, also seeks a complete accounting from Hasbro on what is owed.

Klamer countersued Thursday, saying he is the sole creator and Markham’s widow has no right to any royalties.

A spokeswoman for Pawtucket-based Hasbro did not return emails seeking comment.

The game has sold more than 30 million copies. It features three-dimensional plastic board pieces and a clicking wheel. Players are assigned a car, pick up pegs that represent spouses or children along the way and face challenges, such as inheriting a relative’s skunk farm. At the end, the richest player wins.

It was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2010 and has been displayed at the Smithsonian Institution.

It has been spun off into endeavours such as a TV game show, an iPhone app and gambling ventures.

Lorraine Markham’s lawsuit said her husband invented the game in 1959, a claim Klamer disputes. At that time, Klamer was president of Link Research Corp., a company that was formed by TV personality Art Linkletter to promote toys and other games. Klamer offered to market The Game of Life to board game maker Milton Bradley, the lawsuit says, and they struck a royalty deal, which gave Link and Markham a percentage of sales.

Klamer’s countersuit said he developed the game and then hired Markham to make the game board. He said he and Milton Bradley made significant changes to the design of the board before selling it. He said the game has been revised repeatedly since then, and Markham was not involved in that work.

Markham died in 1993, and his wife inherited his company, the lawsuit said.

Ten years later, in 2003, according to Lorraine Markham’s lawsuit, Linkletter and Klamer’s company struck a secret deal with Hasbro to give the company an option to acquire TV rights to the game. Markham was never alerted and never received royalties from that agreement. Klamer denied wrongdoing.

Markham’s lawyer, Lou Solomon, said he has seen no evidence that Linkletter, who died in 2010, was complicit in any wrongdoing or was even actively involved in the business.

U.S. District Judge William Smith on Thursday gave Hasbro until Dec. 18 to respond.