JON SALISBURY: Intellectual property rights - the gift that keeps on giving

Intellectual property right negotiations has our columnist diving into his memory banks this month.
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What came first? The chicken or the egg? The toy or the licence?

The news that Hasbro’s Hungry Hungry Hippos is to become the latest toy property to make its debut on the big screen has left a lot of people scratching their heads in disbelief.

It would take some serious Hollywood magic to make hippos that gobble up marbles the stuff of box office gold, surely?

Hungry Hungry Hippos: The Movie is currently in development but one person said it was really just a metaphor for the upcoming Kardashian movie. Okay. Joke over.

What is it all about? The truth is, no one knows yet. If it works, the upside for the brand could be immense. If it fails, everyone runs for the hills and tries to deny culpability for creating a piece of cinematic polonium.

What it does do is provide me with a chance to paint a picture for you of the toy’s inventor, Fred Kroll, who first provided Milton Bradley with the game itself in 1966.

Kroll, head of Uncle Freddie's Fun Factory Inc. was a war veteran having served in the US Army Signal Corps in Hawaii and later became a familiar face at toy fairs all overthe world where he’d be seen endlessly trundling around the aisles witha trolley, touting his latest inventions.

The last time I saw him was in Nuremberg, complete with trolley, on the platform of the train station. Unfortunately, Fred passed away in 2003, aged 82. In addition to Hungry Hungry Hippos, the other game that he is best remembered for is Trouble.

If the movie does make money, I hope Fred’s descendants will benefit. Of course, it could be that Hasbro has total ownership of the property depending on the deal that Fred and his lawyers originally struck with Milton Bradley back in 1966.

There are many legendary stories about the deals that the creators of intellectual properties negotiate, some to their long-term benefit, others because they were just pleased to bag some cash.

The creator of GI Joe was offered $100,000 in 1962 or a slice of royalties. He took the money thereby missing out on a percentage of billions in future third party licensing fees plus TV and movie revenue.

Of course, the most famous example of someone who forfeited his fee for a percentage of future licensing revenue was Alec Guinness whose Star Wars profit share must have bagged him and his estate after he died untold millions. I wonder if Disney’s subsequent purchase of Lucasfilm also contributed.

If any Disney lawyers reading this are able to share any information, I’d love to hear from you. It would be lovely to learn that, 24 years after his death, Uncle Walt was now paying Sir Alec’s family the two per cent of gross royalties from Star Wars that was originally agreed with George Lucas.

Intellectual Property Rights: the gift that keeps on giving and giving and giving…

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