Was Monopoly Once Ruled a Generic Term and Thus Not Protected by Trademark?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to board games and whether they are true or false.

BOARD GAME URBAN LEGEND: Monopoly was once ruled a generic term and un-trademarkable.

As noted in the last Board Game Urban Legend, Parker Brothers had a specific version of the history of Monopoly that went pretty much unchallenged until the mid-1970s, when aa San Francisco State University economics professor named Ralph Anspach attempted to sell a game called Anti-Monopoly.

Here is a second edition of Anti-Monopoly…

Parker Brothers tried to stop him, and in the long legal squabble that ensued (which Anspach took all the way to the Supreme Court!), the history of Monopoly was finally brought to light.

Ultimately, in a court decision, one of Anspach’s defenses – that “Monopoly” was too generic of a term for a trademark – was ruled in Anspach’s favor and Parker Brothers LOST their trademark on the name Monopoly!

Luckily for Parker Brothers (who by then had been purchased by General Mills and merged into General Mills’ Kenner line of toys), the United States government’s trademark law often ends up being quite beneficial for corporations, so soon after the 1979 decision came down (1983 to be precise), the US Congress (in a bill with bi-partisanship support) changed the trademark law to overrule the court’s decision and have Monopoly no longer be a generic term.

So Parker Brothers/Kenner was able to re-register Monopoly as a trademark. To this day it remains a trademark of Parker Brothers and its current owner, Hasbro.

Anspach at least did win the rights to the name Anti-Monopoly, which he used for the second edition that you saw above and a more recent edition by University Games…

Anspach wrote an interesting book about his experiences called The Billion Dollar Monopoly Swindle (later republished as Monopolygate). Ridley Scott optioned the book for a possible movie!

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

2 Responses to “Was Monopoly Once Ruled a Generic Term and Thus Not Protected by Trademark?”

  1. ParanoidObsessive on February 15th, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Anti-Monopoly seems like such an awkward term, it feels like the only reason anyone would ever use it would be as a direct allusion to the existing Monopoly game (which would be a nod in favor of trademark defense on the part of Monopoly).

    Ironically, the first name I came up with in my head for a game like that was “Trustbusters” (or some variant thereof), and apparently the original name of the game WAS “Bust the Trust”.

  2. How about Commu-Nopoly? That would probably be more appropriate.

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