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Local attorney sues Fundex over game royalties

March 29, 2010

A local lawyer who created the game “Chronology” is accusing Fundex Games Ltd. of trademark infringement.

Jane Ruemmele, a Marion County public defender, filed suit March 24 in U.S. District Court of southern Indiana. The lawsuit alleges breach of contract, trademark infringement, use of a counterfeit mark, unfair competition, copyright infringement, trademark dilution and forgery.

Ruemmele is seeking damages, plus a judgment for the return or destruction of all products bearing the Chronology trademark.

Fundex is a family-owned company based in Plainfield that sells licensed games, plus standard games such as checkers and chess. One of its top sellers is "Phase 10," a variation on rummy. The company is also defending a trademark-infringement suit from "Phase 10" creator Kenneth Johnson of Michigan.

An attorney for Fundex, Daniel Lueders of Woodard Emhardt Moritary McNett & Henry in Indianapolis, did not return a phone call seeking comment on the Ruemmele case.

In Chronology, players try to place historical events and inventions in their proper place in time. The first player to accumulate 10 cards in calendar sequence wins. Ruemmele holds the trademark and copyright to the game, which she first licensed in 1995.

Fundex acquired the licensing rights to “Chronology” in October of 2007 with the purchase of Great American Puzzle Factory, according to the lawsuit. The deal that Ruemmele struck with Great American in 1995 provides her royalty payments of 6 percent of net sales. The rate rises to 8 percent after the first 100,000 games are sold.

“Fundex has sold numerous units of the card game since its acquisition of Great American,” the lawsuit alleges, but the company has provided no royalty statements or payments since October 2008.

Ruemmele also believes the payments Fundex made up to that point were less than required under the license agreement.

The lawsuit says Ruemmele attempted to work with Fundex to extend the license agreement past an expiration date of March 31, 2008, or to strike a new deal. “However, Fundex continually refused to return calls or correspondence from Ruemmele or her attorney while Fundex continued to sell and market the card game.”

Jonathan Polak, the Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP attorney representing Ruemmele, said his client isn’t sure exactly how many copies of Chronology have been sold by Fundex—that’s why she’s seeking an audit. The contract with Great American gave Ruemmele the right to inspect company sales records.  

Polak wouldn't say how much “Chronology” had earned before Fundex acquired the game.

Ruemmele’s relationship with Great American, formerly based in Connecticut, suggests the game was successful.

Ruemmele and Great American renewed the contract in 2000 and again on Oct. 15, 2007, shortly before the sale to Fundex.

Great American also paid Ruemmele an annual, guaranteed advance of $1,000, according to the license contract.

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