Lego cannot be trademarked, European judges rule

Danish toy maker Lego lost a big trademark battle in Europe this week: their Canadian rival Mega Brands successfully appealed to the EU's trademark office to cancel Lego's trademark, issued in 1999. Judges agreed with experts who said a brick was a technical shape which could not be trademarked.



  1. While I’m not fond of trademarking, in this case it did also reinforce quality control and LEGO’s good product standards.

    Bricks by other companies have always tended to be poorly constructed – that I’ve seen, anyway.

  2. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but I believe that this simply means that the actual physical shape of the brick can’t be trademarked, not the word ‘LEGO’.

    That means that bricks of (ostensibly) the same shape and size but with the LEGO word branding can still be sold exclusively by the Lego company and the buyer can still be assured of a better quality toy.

    It seems like a sensible decision.

    I look forward to the Mickey Mouse ‘3 overlapping circles on a surface’ trademark being invalidated along similar lines. :)

  3. As ever, the facts are more interesting than first appeared. What Lego tried to do was use the wider definition of a trademark which came in with the European Trademark Directive to try and get everlasting protection for the product as such. Trademarks last indefinitely providing you pay the renewal fees and don’t let them become generic, while patents and registered designs expire. Consequently, this was a pitch to try and protect the basic brick shape forever.

    What is also interesting is that the system more or less worked: OHIM granted the trademark, true, but then it was revoked when Mega Brands objected and Lego have lost both appeals. The Court explicitly recognised the public policy reasons not to allow indefinite protection of technical solutions.

    (aside: *sigh* at someone talking about trademarking genes.)

  4. @Blue

    Lego patented a large variety of locking mechanisms way back in the dawn of time, but the last existing patent expired in 1998. No idea why they didn’t/couldn’t renew it but it sounds to me like the trademark was an attempt to stop other companies copying the now legally unprotected lego system.

    So it’s not about the brand name – it’s about other companies copying the method of locking the bricks together which they invented. I think the judges may have wanted to avoid trademarks being extended to product designs – ie a Chinese Wii knock off copying the case design of a Wii but not carrying nintendo branding.

    Personally I’m with lego.

    1. the last existing patent expired in 1998. No idea why they didn’t/couldn’t renew it

      Because patents are non-renewable, and are intended to foster innovation and competition, not hinder it. This is pretty much the only part of the patent system that works properly — you get a limited amount of time to get your product out there and establish yourself in the marketplace. After that runs out, you should have established a customer base sufficient to keep you competitive. And if not? Oh well, guess your competitors’ knock-offs were a better choice for the customer.

      Though seriously, if you haven’t recovered your R&D investment in seven years, you’re doing it wrong.

  5. Mhhh…
    So a building made of lego can be licenced, but not le “lego” itselve ?

    If not, I can say that a “bit” can not been licenced. So, any software can’t be licenced too.

    Microsoft will hate me… XD

  6. This is actually pretty cool news. Presumably companies will now be able to create parts that inter-operate with Lego bricks. The world gets a little bit better for young hackers everywhere!

  7. I think that, originally, MegaBlocks tried to get around the whole issue by having a different interlocking system of diagonal channels on the insides of the bricks. Lego sued anyway but lost there too. Do the new MegaBlocks have the Lego system of tubes on the inside now?

    1. Somewhere in the lego factory in Denmark is this glass case with the original 1958 patent and a group of blocks still on the sprue.

      The sprue is made up of lego blocks with a different “clutch” systems. You can only see the back of the blocks, but I’m guessing the “tube” back types have different top configurations too

      They patented all the variations together to stop other companies from trying to cash in on what they were sure was a winning idea.

      Apologies for the picture quality I threw them together from screen grabs of the excellent James May’s Toy Stories episode where he builds a full sized lego house

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