Lego, the Denmark-based building block toy company, has won a major patent case in the General Court of the European Union, the EU’s second-highest court. The decision reverses an earlier case by EU Intellectual Property Office that held that the Lego brick’s design was not patent-protected, as the design is functional, not stylish.
As such, the earlier EUIPO ruling allowed competing companies like Delta Sport, Blue Brixx, Cobi, Wange, and Qman to continue selling blocks that share a very similar design to Lego. However, with the EuG decision, such protections might not exist any longer, and the competitors may need to drastically redesign their blocks.
The Danish toymaker was ecstatic with the ruling earlier this week, stating “The decision confirms our strong belief that the original design should be legally protected against copies.” The move could be a crushing blow for competitors, as it holds that Lego’s brick design is not strictly functional. Since the ruling holds that the brick has aesthetic properties, not just functional ones, it can be protected under copyright law.
In their ruling, the EuG wrote “EUIPO erroneously declared invalid a design of a brick of a LEGO toy building set. EUIPO failed to examine the relevance of the application of the exception relied on by LEGO and failed to take into consideration all the features of appearance of the brick.” As such, the Lego brick can be defined as a patent-protected design, owing to its unique appearance.
The building block case doesn’t stop here, though. The EuG is not the highest court in the land: the EU Court of Justice is the highest court in the European Union, making an appeal by plaintiff Delta Sport very likely. Should Delta Sport’s claim, that Lego’s design is merely functional, be upheld by the high court, the company would be free to continue selling their competing brick-style building toys.
While Lego is happy with the EuG decision, many of the company’s competitors allege that Lego is using its size and fortune to crush competition before it can even get into stores. A patent protecting the very design of the building block toys would close off a huge industry of competing toys. While Lego remains the top dog in the world of brick toys, its competitors are hoping for a boost from the publicity of this case that can help them, especially if they’ll soon be compelled to stop making their competing products.