Expired patent of the day: Lego

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen et al, filed Jul 28 1958 [US Patent Office/Google Patents via 365blanc]

Previously: The Lego brick turns 50; Lego cannot be trademarked, European judges rule.


  1. Awesome. I came downstairs during a break while writing The BrickGun Book to see this. I owe that man and his company so much. Childhood happiness, worldwide fame in adulthood, a modestly lucrative endeavor. Here’s to 40 more years! (although the original company and wooden toys go much farther back)

    1. It didn’t last 53 years.  This particular patent has been expired for a while now.  Although the current term of a patent is generally 20 years from filing, at the time the Lego patent was filed the term was the longer of either 17 years from the issue date or 20 years from the filing date.

  2. Wha??? So, help me understand, does this mean that other toy companies can manufacture these “toy building bricks” legally?

    1. Sure, they just can’t (A) seem to make them as well nor (B) use Lego’s trademark to promote their product.

      1. Kre-o? Erk. I looked up if it fits with Lego. Supposedly it will. But it looks inferior (agreed, EvilSpirit). No doubt is. I won’t be contaminating my Lego collection with Kre-o bricks. Maybe I’m elitist but that’s like putting those colored wax sticks kids get at restaurants in the Crayola box. Thanks, Spriggan_Prime.

  3. About 20 years ago, I had some Tyco-brand bricks that fit together with my lego.  The regular bricks were fine, but the minifigs sucked, and the bricks were the most basic shapes.  I was mostly happy to have more bricks, but  I got rid of the figs.

  4. sooo the patent filed in 1958 has a illustration from 1961. Did they remember to patent the lego time machine as well?

    1. Oct. 24, 1961 is the issue date of the patent.  Not unusual for that to be several years after the filing date.

    1. In the 1990s, they weren’t sure what they were going to do; they were losing market share and money to other toys, and it seemed like TV and video games were killing them. They reacted by making the Lego sets more “action oriented” — easier to build with more big single-purpose elements. The entire Lego City was fifteen police stations, seven fire stations, and a gas station with an ATM to rob. Not surprisingly, things got worse — but then, miraculously, they saw the light, and returned to actually focusing on sets encouraging creative building. Now, not only are the basic-block sets (“Lego Creator”) just what they ought to be (simple elements with a lot of ideas), they focus on making highly-detailed complicated and gorgeous model designs for the rest of the lineup. I don’t think competition based on their patent was involved in any of this. None of the knock-offs has ever tried to compete on quality, either of set design or of the basic blocks, and once Lego realized that and stopped trying to race to the bottom, they started winning again.

      1. They’ve also realized the iconic place they held in pop-culture, and started exploiting it in order to diversify: the “yellow-head minifig” has become a very powerful brand that they can use in videogames and books, all the while advertising the original core-product. (I’m actually a bit miffed that all minifigs coming with my new Millenium Falcon set are pink-headed…)
        Pushing out videogames based on Lego sets based on licensed properties (Indiana Jones, Batman, Harry Potter, Star Wars) was a stroke of genius.

  5. I had one of these for a while – Tyco branded, but fit Lego bricks.  It was great fun to build stuff while talking.

    It turned flakey and crackly after a while, so I put it in a free box when we moved.  I made some hipsters’ day – they were very excited, even after I told them it didn’t work very well…


    Edited to add – how the heck to you embed an image? I see other people know how to do this…

  6. There’s the precision of the moulding, and the composition of the plastic, to consider.  Which is why metal lego bricks will suck: no ‘give’ means they won’t hold nicely. 

  7. I saw a story a few days ago about a LegoLand themepark opening in Florida, and how there are already several other LegoLand themeparks.
    I don’t know what “LegoLand themepark” means exactly–people dressed like giant Lego people sounds freakier than giant cartoon mice. Curious, anyway.

    1. I’ve been to LegoLand Billund, Denmark, about 15 years ago. The centrepieces were large reproductions of famous buildings, airports, Nordic fjords with dams etc, all in Lego and obviously at reduced scale. Then there were classic rides, at the time based mostly on pirates, which I found disappointing — but I have to say I was more interested in bricks than rides…

  8. Interesting that this shows a LEGO “brick” as Fig. 1 that I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen.  Or is that just a cutaway for illustration purposes?

  9. I think that has more to do with their licensing of Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, et. al., than anything else. I would have killed to have Star Wars Lego as a kid. (Now I enjoy them as an adult.) By THAT measure, you can chalk up their success to copyrights, and not patents.

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