Last week a number of escape room owners let us know that a guy named Howard Cutler of ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS dropped into the Mobile Escape Room Owners Facebook group brazenly announcing that he had filed a patent on the concept of “mobile escape room” and demanding that everyone get off of his lawn.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. I have a patent pending for a Mobile Escape Room. It seems like the word ‘mobile’, gets used loosely. My Mobile Escape Room is indeed 100 percent mobile. We are not brick and mortar and we are not a trailer. We literally build the specific themes for each client, inside or outside, 100 percent turnkey system. If you are thinking or currently have a tent, pip and draping, inflatable frame, igloo or anything to make the actual room and place puzzles, locks codes or anything under the sun inside the room, you will be in violation of my patent. This is not a joke and I want each and everyone of you to be advised of this before you are thinking of pursuing this idea or may already be doing this. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to call me at 3014247114 during business hours.”
The Community Reaction
The Mobile Escape Room Owners Facebook group responded with a mix of assertive clarification of facts and mockery… both of which seem well-deserved given the circumstances.
Patent Filings Are Serious
It’s easy to look at Cutler’s poorly written declaration of war and laughable claim to ownership of the idea of mobile escape rooms as a joke. If you know anything about the history of escape rooms, this should seem utterly hilarious.
If you know anything about patent trolls, the damage they can do, and the cost involved with killing even stupid patents, you’ll know that we as a community need to take this seriously.
Based on Cutler’s statement, his refusal to answer basic questions, and a whole lot of evidence that I will lay out before you, it’s clear that to me that he is either a forum troll or a patent troll. All signs point to the latter.
My Conversation with Cutler
I called Cutler as per his posting to hear about his innovation, his intentions, and his timing.
When I finally got him on the phone a day after calling, he answered all but one of my questions by telling me that I’d have to ask his attorney.
When asked how long he had been in business, he answered, “25 years,” which was a cute response. When asked how long he had been in the escape room business… you guessed it: I had to ask his attorney.
His attorney could not be reached for comment.
About ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS
I did a bit of digging around ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS to try and learn where this company came from, and more importantly, when it came about.
All signs point to late November and early December of 2017.
According to the WhoIs record on the website’s domain, it was created on November 12, 2017.
A search of “ultimate mobile escape room” on Facebook brought me to Cutler’s company page ULTIMATE AMUSEMENTS. The oldest post mentioning escape rooms appears to be from December 3, 2017. There isn’t a lack of promotional content for other products on their Facebook page.
ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS’ Website
(We are purposely not linking.)
All 5 of the games listed on the ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS website are listed as “NEW.”
This further suggests that this company emerged in late Q4 2017.
When I perused ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS’ website I learned that they have a few games based on pre-existing intellectual property:
- Da Vinci Code
- Twilight Zone
- Die Hard
Cutler didn’t stay on the phone long enough for me to ask about licensing, but I do know that these licenses take a lot of time and money. I would be surprised to learn that ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS negotiated deals with the appropriate rights holders.
I’m not the IP police and I don’t get particularly worked up over the subject, but given Cutler’s IP tantrum, in this case it’s worth noting.
Pricing & Quality
It looks like ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS’ business model is fundamentally different from most escape room companies in that they seem entirely focused on setting up temporary games for large events. It would cost an incredible amount of money to play these games.
I normally never judge an escape game by photos, but a quick glance at the Facebook post from December 3rd shows what looks like a bland retread of a lot of old cliches: blacklights, book safes, and uninteresting settings.
All of this suggests that ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS and its owner are neophytes to escape rooms.
Some Mobile Escape Room Facts
We’ve been tracking the growth of the escape room industry in the United States since mid 2014, before the overwhelming majority of escape rooms even opened in this country. There are a ton of different mobile escape games in the market and plenty of different definitions of mobile.
Trailer Escape Rooms
The first branded mobile escape room that we became aware of was Mobile Room Escape in Chicago. We added this company to our map in February of 2016. It opened in 2015.
There are plenty of trailer-based games all over the United States. We first played one at the Chicago Room Escape Conference in August of 2016.
Trailer games, however, aren’t the only portable or temporary escape games on the market.
Portable Escape Rooms
Back in March of 2016 while on our honeymoon, Lisa and I played 60 Out’s Quest in a Box, a game that existed in the lobby of a brick and mortar escape room, but could be broken down and moved about.
Tent Escape Rooms
We met the guys from Mindgames Productions at the Niagara Falls Room Escape Conference in May of 2017. These guys had a tent-based product that looked similar to what Cutler claims he has recently patented.
When I reached out to the guys from Mindgames I learned that they’ve been producing these experiences since April of 2015.
Tabletop Escape Rooms
There are also tabletop games, the first of which was Escape Room in a Box, which we played back in February of 2016 as well. These games made an appearance on the floor of the very same Chicago Room Escape Conference. They could certainly classify as portable or mobile escape rooms.
Train-Based Escape Rooms
In 2017 our Canadian friends from the Room Escape Divas ran a 3 hour escape room event on a moving train.
That’s pretty mobile.
Mass Escape Events
Then there is Real Escape Games, also known as SCRAP… the first company to sell a formal room escape product. They have been running portable, traveling mass escape games for longer than escape rooms have been in the United States.
Our first visit to a traveling SCRAP event was in June of 2014. This was also my first escape room review before this website even existed.
SCRAP has produced tons of games that have temporary and portable structures that hold puzzling content.
A patent can be denied or invalidated if there is proof of prior art. Prior art is essentially any evidence that the patented thing existed beforehand.
Unless ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS has been a sleeper silently making these escape rooms for years without anyone knowing about it, any number of posts on this website could invalidate their claim.
Mobile escape rooms isn’t a new concept. No one holds a patent on it… and that’s fantastic. It means that the idea is out there for all of us to enjoy and iterate on.
If ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS wants to become a patent troll and declare control over the idea, they are going to have to fight a host of escape room owners who have been in the business for some time.
If the US Patent and Trade Office happens to approve this patent and start suing, give us a call. We’ll happily take the stand and testify to the variety of mobile escape rooms that exist, and have already existed, in the United States and all around the world.