If it were a David vs Goliath battle of wits played out on the instantly recognisable board at the centre of this fierce legal tussle, then Goliath has just set down all seven letters against a "K" on a triple word score. The word: "knockout" (107 points, thank you very much).
Hasbro, the world's second-biggest toy manufacturer with predicted sales this year of £340m, is suing two brothers in Calcutta for intellectual property infringement. By launching an unofficial online version of Scrabble – owned in North America by Hasbro – Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla have incurred the wrath of one of the biggest players in the business.
Scrabulous, the Agarwalla duo's take on the addictive word game invented by an American architect 70 years ago, has been a huge hit as an application on Facebook. But now Hasbro has launched its own version of Facebook Scrabble, and it wants a chair at the games table. Late on Thursday, the company filed a suit in New York against the Agarwallas, and has instructed Facebook to remove the look-alike application immediately.
"Hasbro has an obligation to act appropriately against infringement of our intellectual properties," said the company's general counsel, Barry Nagler. "We view the Scrabulous application as a clear and blatant infringement of our Scrabble intellectual property, and we are pursuing this legal action in accordance with the interests of our shareholders, and the integrity of the Scrabble brand."
This is not the first time that Hasbro has cried foul over Scrabulous. In January, it joined Mattell, which owns the rights to the game outside North America, and asked Facebook to remove the unofficial application, threatening legal action. More than 50,000 Scrabulous fans threw down their tiles in protest and joined the "Save Scrabulous" groups on the social networking site.
The response from fans shows how popular Scrabulous has become, and why Hasbro has laid down such high-value – and legally charged – words. Yesterday, 506,580 players worldwide were playing on virtual boards. By contrast, Hasbro's new version of the game counted just 10,529 users in North America, and 9,658 on the worldwide version. Facebook, which could be hit with a separate lawsuit if it does not remove Scrabulous, was keeping its tile rack close to its chest yesterday.
"Over the past year, Facebook has tried to use its status as neutral platform provider to help the parties come to an amicable agreement," a spokesman said. "We're disappointed that Hasbro has sought to draw us into their dispute; we have forwarded their concerns to Scrabulous and requested their response."
Neither Rajat nor Jayant Agarwalla – 27 and 22 – responded to Facebook messages requesting a comment yesterday, but the pair of software developers, based in India, have said they expect fans to remain loyal to Scrabulous, from which they earn advertising revenues.
Early signs on Facebook message boards were encouraging for the Agarwallas, who run RJ Softwares in Calcutta. On Hasbro's new Scrabble page on Facebook, one user said: "If Hasbro manages to shut down Scrabulous it will be capitalism's victory over fun. If that happens I will throw away my Scrabble board."
A few users left notes of support for Hasbro, but on the endangered Scrabulous page, a sceptic left a message that suggested it might not be game over for the Agarwallas: "I think people should just start adding this game like crazy, and, if it gets removed to be replaced with an 'official' Scrabble game, that everyone boycotts the 'official' one. Show them the power of the internet."
Other ways to avoid working
This Facebook game is to Boggle what Scrabulous is to Scrabble. It also attracted the attention of Hasbro's lawyers, and was reborn with the new name and a few basic rule changes, presumably in the hope of avoiding litigation. apps.facebook.com/prolific
Keep the customers happy at a sushi restaurant by serving them the right mix of rice, roe and nori. A fabulous timewaster that will build your appetite. www.miniclip.com/games/sushi-go-round
Using a nuclear bomb to kill a jelly baby may seem extreme, but it's engrossing stuff. This game is also a subliminal advertisment for Logitech computer accessories, not that you'd know it. www.jellybattle.com
Guide Santa around the rooftops and feed him pies and champagne. The more sloshed he gets, the more points you get – but the more likely he is to slide over the edge. tinyurl.com/yzdo9n
Tim Walker and Rhodri Marsden