To protect or not to protect, that is the question. Hasbro, the maker of the popular word game Scrabble, answered that question definitively when it slapped a lawsuit on the Agarwalla brothers from India. The suit accused the brothers of pirating Hasbro's intellectual property when they created Scrabulous, a popular game application that's attracted half a million users on Facebook.

Scrabulous was one of Facebook's most popular applications, attracting more than 500,00 users a day. It was also an obvious rip off.

Nevertheless, the blogosphere has been up in arms about what many perceive to be a bad PR move by Hasbro. Shouldn't they be thanking the brothers for generating so much fuss abut Scrabble? The company reportedly made a huge offer for the software but the Agarwalla brothers turned it down, confident they could get more money. So was this a good business decision or bad PR for a big company to pick on two punks from Calcutta? It is better business for Hasbro to protect its intellectual property or to look at it as free advertising that builds its brand?

Trademark and copyright infringement is serious business. It is also illegal. That's because there is great value in intellectual property. Many of today's most iconic brands, from Microsoft and Apple to Coke and Starbuck's, owe more of their worth to intangible assets like intellectual property than they do to fixed assets like property and equipment. If you don't protect your brand, it's like leaving the keys in the door when you leave home. Everyone and his brother can just help themselves.

Maybe it was all fun and games at first, and these guys were just benevolent, open source Robin Hoods who wanted to improve something you own and then give it away for free. But at some point greed took over and it became a case of theft for profit, clear and simple.

So Hasbro weighed the bad PR it might get from some bloggers against the bad PR it might get from its stakeholders by giving away the Scrabble brand. And it made a business decision. It decided to launch its own Scrabble application on Facebook. Facebook users now have the option to play Hasbro Scrabble application or simply go directly to the Scrabulous website.

So for the two brothers from India, the game comes down to this. What's a four-letter word for bummer?

Bookmark and Share