(CN) — Leaving the colored grid aside, the European General Court took its second stab at another puzzle involving Rubik’s Cube on Thursday and confirmed the cancellation of its trademark.
The European Union Intellectual Property Office first registered Rubik’s Cube as a trademark in 1999. When a German toymaker called Simba lobbied to have that mark invalidated, the office initially refused and spurned Simba’s appeal.
Simba persevered before the European Court of Justice, however, when it argued that EU law specifically bars the registration of “signs consisting exclusively of the shape of goods which is necessary to obtain a technical result.”
The office known as EUIPO in turn canceled the Rubik’s Cube trademark registration in 2017, this time triggering an appeal by Seven Towns, the U.K.-based entity that manages the intellectual property rights of Rubik’s Cube.
Thought the court had upheld the mark when it was Simba that was appealing in 2014, it ruled Thursday that cancellation was correct.
“In particular, when the shape of a product merely incorporates the technical solution developed by the manufacturer of that product and patented by it, protection of that shape as a trade mark once the patent has expired would considerably and permanently reduce the opportunity for other undertakings to use that technical solution,” the Luxembourg-based court wrote. “In the system of intellectual property rights developed in the European Union, technical solutions are capable of being granted protection only for a limited period, so that subsequently they may be freely used by all economic operators.”
Hungarian architecture professor Erno Rubik invented the three-dimensional puzzle cube that made his last name famous in 1974. After EUIPO invalidated Seven Town’s trademark, a competing puzzle-cube maker called Cubicle Enterprises LLC brought a federal complaint in Manhattan to cancel the U.S. trademarks held by Rubik’s Brand Ltd., the subsidiary Seven Towns created in 2013 to handle all licensing and marketing related to the toy.
A representative for Rubik’s Brand emphasized that today’s decision pertains only to the three-dimensional black and white 3x3x3 design.
“The overall, distinctive appearance of the Rubik’s Cube puzzles, whether it is the 3x3x3 cube or other configurations, remains protected by numerous other 3D and 2D figurative trademarks which are not restricted to our registered marks ‘Rubik’ or ‘Rubik’s,’” the representative added. “We also rely on copyright protection, passing off and allied intellectual property rights (which varies from country to country) to enforce our rights accordingly by our specialist legal team in over 25 territories.”
Rubik’s Brand also noted that customs officials seize approximately 250,000 off-brand cubes per year.