Lego Doesn’t Play Well
Who’s On First?
The last underlying patents of the Lego-brick design expired in 1978, opening the field to rivals.
1932. Only The Best Is Good Enough
The Lego Group began in the workshop of Ole Kirk Christiansen (1891–1958), a carpenter from Billund, Denmark, who began making wooden toys in 1932. In 1934, his company came to be called “Lego”, derived from the Danish phrase leg godt [lai̯ˀ ˈkɒt], which means “play well”. In 1947, Lego expanded to begin producing plastic toys.
1947. The Self-Locking Building Brick
Lego originally copied their bricks from British psychologist and inventor Hilary Page in the late 1940s.
Post WWII, Page designed and produced the Kiddicraft Self-Locking Building Bricks, that have been described as the “original LEGO”. He patented the basic design, a 2 X 4 studded brick, in 1947. This was later followed by patents for the side slits (1949) and the baseplate (1952), designs featured in exhibits at the Brighton Toy and Model Museum.
1953. Remix No.1
Ole Kirk Christiansen and his son Godtfred became aware of the Kiddicraft brick after examining a sample, and possibly drawings, given to them by the British supplier of the first injection moulding machine they had purchased. Realising their potential, Ole modified the Kiddicraft brick and in 1949 marketed his own version, The Automatic Binding Brick, that became the Lego brick in 1953.
Page was reportedly never aware of this according to his family, and the company Lego Ole Christiansen founded expanded into Western Europe. British Lego Ltd. was set up in late 1959 and the first sets were sold the following year. Lego eventually acquired the rights to Kiddicraft in 1981. In an out-of-court settlement Lego paid UK £45,000 to the new owners of Page’s company Hestair-Kiddicraft. It has subsequently removed all reference to Page and Kiddicraft from its published history.
1980’s. Leggo my Lego!
At least two of the largest clone manufacturers have been challenged in court by The Lego Group. The lawsuits have been mostly unsuccessful, for courts have generally found the functional design of the basic brick to be a matter of patent rather than trademark law, and all relevant Lego patents have expired.
Lego and Tyco Industries fought in US courts over Tyco’s line of interlocking bricks in the 1980s with Tyco prevailing. On August 31, 1987, the US District Court ruled that Tyco could continue making Super Blocks, its Lego clone bricks, but ordered Tyco to stop using the Lego trademark nor state that they are “Lego, but only cheaper”. In Lego’s Hong Kong suit against Tyco Super Blocks, Lego received an injunction forcing Tyco to stop cloning Lego brick designed after 1973. Tyco was also being sued at the time by Lego in Austria, Italy and Canada.
2005. Mega Blocked, Eh
The Canadian company Mega Bloks was sued on the grounds that its use of the “studs and tubes” interlocking brick system was a violation of trademarks held by Lego. On November 17, 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld Mega Bloks’ right to continue selling the product in Canada. A similar decision was reached by the European Union’s Court of First Instance on November 12, 2008, upholding an EU regulatory agency’s reversal of opinion following an objection by Mega Bloks against a trademark awarded to Lego in 1999. On September 14, 2010, the European Court of Justice ruled that the 8-peg design of the original Lego brick “merely performs a technical function [and] cannot be registered as a trademark.”
Lego Wooden Duck, 1939
Design: Ole Kirk Kristiansen
Kiddicraft Self-Locking Building Bricks, 1949
Design: Harry Page
– Why file for a patent?
– What was/is incentive of issuing patents?
– Why do you have competition?
– How do you respond to imitations?
– How much influence do you reveal?
– When should you pivot?
By: Andrew Neyer