LEGO wins important intellectual property case
The General Court of the European Union (GCEU) has ruled in favour of the toy brick manufacturer LEGO in a recent intellectual property dispute.
A patent gives the owner the right to stop others from copying, manufacturing, selling or importing their invention without the permission of the owner. It enables the owner to benefit from the hard work it has put into the development and to achieve an advantage in the marketplace for the duration of the patent.
LEGO, the household name and Danish toy brick manufacturer, is now accustomed to having its intellectual property (IP) rights challenged; many competitors have sought to usurp them as the main player in the toy brick market. In earlier court decisions in 2008 and 2010 the courts found that the classic LEGO brick did not enjoy patent protection, because the design was dictated by its technical function.
A newer design for the LEGO brick was registered in 2010. In a decision of the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) it was found that the LEGO brick design was also dictated by its technical function, therefore limiting the time for its protection as a design patent.
However it would seem for the time being that LEGO’s fortunes in the courts have changed, as in the most recent decision of the GCEU, the decision of the EUIPO was overruled and it was found that the design was not limited to a technical function.
Regard was had to the fact that the three studs only run down the center of the plate, with the surface to either side being smooth, so its design is not limited to a technical function. Essentially, the decision is such that the EUIPO must consider an exceptions clause, whereby combination parts with innovative features that are major marketing features can be protected, even if they are of a technical nature.
This finding therefore allows LEGO to maintain a strong foothold in the toy building brick market and may mean that competitors soon have to stop selling some of their products as originally designed.
Nonetheless, we will have to wait and see if Delta Sport, the German company that challenged LEGO, decides to take the case to the European Court of Justice, the highest European Court.
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Paul is recommended by Chambers UK and The Legal 500 UK. He handles a broad range of commercial and civil disputes for national and international clients, often working on complex commercial litigation and intellectual property cases.