Lego Wins Trademark Case Against German Rival at EU Court

The Danish toymaker prevailed over a German competitor that claimed Lego’s iconic brick design could not be trademarked.

An employee wearing protective gear arranges Lego boxes at a toy store in Jakarta, Indonesia, last June. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana, file)

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — The European Union’s second-highest court ruled in favor of Danish toymaker Lego in a trademark dispute Wednesday. 

The EU Intellectual Property Office failed to take into account all of the features of a Lego brick, the European General Court held

German toy manufacturer Delta Sport Handelskontor brought a complaint before the EUIPO over Lego’s trademark of the design of the plastic building block. Lego trademarked the design with the EU in 2010, preventing other companies from copying it. 

In 2016, Delta Sport contested the design mark, claiming that the features Lego highlighted as unique were actually related to “the technical function of the product” and therefore couldn’t be trademarked. Under EU regulations on intellectual property, companies cannot trademark “features of appearance of a product which are solely dictated by its technical function.” 

Lego, who takes its name from the Danish words “leg godt,” meaning “play well,” was founded by a Danish carpenter in 1932 and he later created the iconic brick toy in 1958. Lego first patented the interlocking toy design in 1958 but in many countries those protections have now expired, and Lego has faced increasing competition from companies making similar toys. 

Ultimately, the EUIPO’s Board of Appeal sided with Delta Sport, nullifying Lego’s design rights. Lego appealed to the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice and its lower court, the General Court, ruled in its favor Wednesday.

“The Board of Appeal did not identify all the features of appearance of the product concerned by the contested design and, consequently, did not establish the solely technical nature of all those features,” the ruling from the General Court’s Second Chamber states.

In particular, Lego argued that the smooth surface on either side of the row of “studs” had not been properly considered by the EUIPO when making their decision, and the EU court agreed.

“It must be stated that the smooth surface of the upper face of the product concerned by the contested design is not included among the features identified by the Board of Appeal. It is a feature of appearance of that product,” the five-judge panel wrote. 

The court further found that Lego’s interlocking design is eligible for trademark protection.

“The mechanical fittings of modular products may nevertheless constitute an important element of the innovative characteristics of modular products and present a major marketing asset, and therefore should be eligible for protection,” the ruling states.

Despite pressure from competitors, Lego is the world’s largest toymaker and pulled in $1.5 billion in revenue in 2020. 

“We welcome the Court of Justice of the European Union’s decision to uphold our registered design. The decision confirms our firm belief that original designs should be protected by legislation from being copied,” Lego said in a statement Wednesday.

Delta Sport did not respond to a request for comment. 

The decision can be appealed to the Court of Justice, the EU’s highest court. 

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