Is a Skee-Ball game by any other name still a Skee-Ball game? That’s one of the questions posed in an ongoing dispute between the makers of Skee-Ball and the people in charge of the world’s first organized Skee-Ball league. The league is called Brewskee-Ball and it was founded in 2005, supposedly with the tacit permission of Skee-Ball’s CEO. With hubs in Brooklyn, San Francisco, Wilmington, North Carolina, and Austin, Texas, Brewskee-Ball brought the kids’ arcade game into the more adult and booze-fueled atmosphere of a bar. The league has enlisted some 3000 teams across the country and even holds a national tournament.
But in 2011, Skee-Ball’s owners changed their minds about Brewskee-Ball. They filed suit against the league claiming that the name infringes on their trademark. The odd thing is that Brewskee-Ball leagues have probably done more to promote the game of Skee-Ball in the last nine years than anything done by the company that actually manufactures the machines. Bringing Skee-Ball into bars exposed a whole new set of players to the game—namely drunk ones who, unlike the 10-year-olds competing for Chinese finger traps in arcades, have an almost unlimited supply of quarters to keep plugging into the machines.
According to Brewskee-Ball co-founder Eric Pavony, the crux of the issue is whether or not the term “Skee-Ball” is generic. The league contends that the term “Skee-Ball” is now so synonymous with the arcade game that it cannot be trademarked. There is some precedence for claims like this. Terms like “aspirin” and “escalator” used to refer exclusively to the products of an individual company, but as they became more prevalent in society they lost trademark protection and the brand names became generic nouns.
In order to raise awareness and funds to defend themselves, Brewskee-Ball launched Skee the People. They also hope to raise $100,000 through a crowd-funding campaign and are hosting a Skee-Ball themed art exhibit on May 14 at Full Circle Bar in Brooklyn that will feature paintings by J.P. Rautio. And if you were planning to attend the Brew-Skee Ball championships, have no fear. They are continuing as planned. The balls will hit the ramps in Austin later this month. The team championships take place on May 24 and the individual Rollers Championship on May 25, both at the Historic Scoot Inn. Admission is free.