The General Court of the European Union has ruled that the shape of Lego's figurines is a protected Community trademark and therefore cannot be copied. Lego, the world's second biggest toy maker, had registered the "three-dimensional trademark" in 2000. British competitor to the Danish firm, Best-Lock, which makes similar toys, had challenged Lego's attempt to protect the shape of its human figures but the appeal was dismissed by the General Court.
Best-Lock tried to argue that the shape of Lego's figures was determined by the fact that they were part of a toy that involved "interlocking building blocks for play purposes" and therefore the trademark was invalid. However, the General Court ruled that the key elements of Lego's figures shapes did not involve the ability to join them to other building blocks.
Characteristics such as holes in the feet and legs did not obviously have a "technical function", it said in a statement and did not necessarily mean they were to be used for joining to building blocks. As the General Court put it they, "do not, per se, enable it to be known whether those components have any technical function".
IT has been reported by the Guardian newspaper that Torsten Geller, the chief executive of Best-Lock, said the company would continue to sell its mini-figures and launch a further legal appeal against Lego's trademark. This suggests that the case will be one that will be ongoing for some time yet either by way of an appeal by Best-Lock or infringement proceedings by Lego or both. We will keep you updated.
Readers may recall that this is not the first time that Lego has been challenged in an EU courtroom. In 2010, after many years of legal wrangling, Canadian competitor Mega Bloks won its case and prevented Lego from registering a red toy building brick as a trademark on the basis that to do so would block other manufacturers from producing a basic technical building shape.
The full case Case T‑395/14 Best-Lock (Europe) Ltd v OHIM, Lego Juris A/S can be read here or the shorter Curia press release here.in: Case Law, News, Trade Marks