More than 60bn pieces of Lego were manufactured in 2014, of which 550m were mini-figures, using a total of 77,000 tonnes of plastic and other raw materials. This output is the reason behind Lego’s registration of a “three-dimensional trademark”.
But Lancashire-based firm Best-Lock Construction Toys, which has sold figures similar to Lego since 1998, attempted to get the trademark revoked in 2012 and hasn’t stopped trying since.
Torsten Geller, CEO of Best-Lock, stated in an affidavit that he did not recall there being a single year when Best-Lock and Lego’s lawyers were not involved in litigation or threats of litigation concerning Best-Lock’s products.
However, he doesn’t plan on taking over the world, nor does he claim that he can disrupt the market if Lego’s monopoly was turned down a notch. Essentially, Lego destroyed his innocence by lying to to him as a child.
During the litigation, Geller began conducting several interviews to get his point across. The senior district judge, Charles Haight, suggested that some of the statements sounded more like “what one would say to one’s therapist”.
The Hartford Business Journal published an interview in which Geller claimed it was all a personal vendetta.
In Geller’s perception, Lego committed the cardinal sin of lying to trusting children when its Danish toymaker founders introduced the Lego line in 1958 without revealing that it was patterned on a UK version created during World War II by the British inventor Hilary Page.
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Geller claimed that as a kid he was among Lego’s biggest fans and only learned the plastic toy blocks originated in England, not Lego’s headquarters in Denmark, when, having moved to London after retirement from his first business and searching for plastic blocks for his two young sons, he discovered a British shop selling ones that weren’t Lego.
Geller alleged that Lego was filled with a bunch of “crooks who stole everything they have and never invented a thing”.
The Hartford Business interview concluded that Geller had vowed to continue his campaign to portray Lego as an “unscrupulous bully bent on dismantling any threat to its iconic toy-block franchise”.
The Hartford Courant similarly noted that Geller had decided to become a Lego competitor in part because he thought it was unethical that the Danish firm had copied someone else’s invention. In the interview he even acknowledged the similarities between the shapes of Best-Lock’s figures and Lego’s. “I did the figures because I want to piss them off,” he allegedly said. “The copyright of figures is completely loony anyway.”
Now Geller is back and he’s claiming that the shape of Lego’s figures are determined by “the possibility of joining them to other interlocking building blocks for play purposes”.
However, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that its mini-figures are distinctive in character and are thus more than just building bricks. Characteristics such as holes in the feet and legs did not obviously have a “technical function”, it said
The ECJ explained in a statement that “the ‘result’ of that shape is simply to confer human traits on figures”.
Characteristics such as holes in the feet and legs did not obviously have a technical function, it said in a statement.
According to Dominic Murphy, trademark attorney at Withers & Rogers, this is a significant ruling that will provide Lego with a huge amount of protection. From a commercial perspective it now means that any rival company is unable to compete with Lego by producing confusingly similar-shaped figures as they could be sued for infringement.
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