Michael Bowling rolled the dice against the giant Monopoly maker and found justice in Providence.
That's his view, and while it might be a tad overblown, the nearly nine-year battle he waged to protect his patent for "crystal dice" from infringement by toy giant Hasbro Inc. certainly seemed mythic to him.
Bowling, of Tucson, found delicious irony in taking on the makers of Monopoly and winning one for the little guy in a federal court in a town called Providence.
His lawyers had told him it might be difficult to persuade a U.S. District Court jury in Providence, R.I., to award him money for Hasbro's violation of his patent. Hasbro, with more than $3.8 billion in revenues in 2007, according to Morningstar, is headquartered in Rhode Island.
Bowling spent more than a week on Hasbro's turf last month, missing Easter with his wife, Elizabeth; his daughter Olivia, 9; and twins, Sarah and Isabel, 6.
He was on the stand for a full day and parts of several other days as Hasbro's team of lawyers tried to break down his story.
"It was very stressful. They were grilling me," Bowling said.
The jury did not find Hasbro guilty of willfully violating Bowling's patent, but it did award him $446,182 in royalties.
"We were told early on: 'You will never convince a jury that Hasbro has done something wrong, not in Providence,' " said Tony Zeuli, one of two lawyers from the intellectual property firm of Merchant & Gould, who represented Bowling.
"It just speaks to the powerful story this guy had to tell," Zeuli said in a telephone interview from the firm's office in Minneapolis.
"He was a fantastic witness. He's very bright and articulate in a way that is unassuming and powerful," Zeuli said.
"I believe it was providential," said Bowling, a Tucson native who graduated from Sunnyside High School and the University of Arizona with a degree in electrical engineering. He is now director of energy trading at Tucson Electric Power Co.
He has a couple of sidelines — including a business that began when he merged his game-playing hobby with the business plan he had to prepare for his master's in business administration from the University of Phoenix.
He had noticed that game players didn't simply carry just enough dice to play games — they carried pouchfuls. He sensed a market.
He put his student plan into action, and he now designs, manufactures and sells dice in various colors and compositions on a Web site called Crystal Caste (www.crystalcaste. com) — brass dice, copper dice, dice carved from semiprecious stones, dice in gargoyle treasure chests.
The dice at issue in the lawsuit Bowling filed against Hasbro are called Crystal Dice, faceted cylinders of opposing triangles and triangular end caps much like a faceted crystal.
The design came to him in an "epiphany" as he was driving on North Swan Road crossing Speedway in 1997. He pulled over and made a quick sketch.
He filed for a patent on the design in January 1998 and took 10,000 of them to a gaming trade show in Milwaukee in August 1998. He sold out.
His dad, Kenneth, a retired miner, was helping out at the booth. Bowling said his father had imbued him with the small-business bug. When he was a kid, his dad cast resin-coated scorpions and other designs, and father and son took them to swap meets.
At the trade show in Milwaukee, as buyers lined up, "he turned to me and said, 'Son, I think you've got a winner.' "
He had a patent
Hasbro representatives were at the game show. Bowling said one Hasbro witness admitted at the trial that he had seen the dice. Which doesn't really matter, Zeuli said. Bowling had a patent, and Hasbro infringed on it — something Hasbro acknowledged at the beginning of the jury trial. Bowling's patent was approved on Aug. 17, 1999.
Bowling said he discovered in 1999 that Hasbro had included dice that mirrored his design in its millennium edition of the popular board game Monopoly.
Simultaneously, he received a letter from Hasbro, expressing an interest.
"It was very, very sneaky," he said. "It suggested they were interested in using it, not that they were were in full production."
If Hasbro had come to him first, Bowling said, he would have worked out a deal. But the amount of money Hasbro eventually offered him was ridiculously small, a fraction of a cent per die.
Hasbro, asked by e-mail to make a spokesperson available for comment, responded by e-mail with a message from Wayne Charness, senior vice president. "We are very disappointed with the result and are considering a number of options at this time," it read.
Zeuli said Hasbro has asked the court to set aside or reduce the award.
Zeuli has filed motions seeking to require Hasbro to pay Bowling's legal fees and to calculate the royalties with interest from the date of the patent violation.
Bowling would like to win the future battles. If interest and attorneys' fees aren't awarded, he will see little of the money he won in Providence, but he still will savor his victory in court.
"When I finally got the opportunity to tell my story to a jury of my peers, they all agreed with me," Bowling said.
"I was a friend to all men after that day. I've really quit sweating the little things."