The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has upheld former decisions to register the shape of LEGO’s anthropomorphic figures as a European Community trademark.
When considering whether or not LEGO can trademark a shape which is “necessary to obtain a technical result,” the Court found that the “essential characteristics” of the human-shapen figure did not entail the notable feature of “interconnecting” with other blocks and thus warranting the trademark.
The suit was brought to the Court by British toy company Best-Lock which has long challenged what founder Torsten Geller calls the “LEGO-doctrine.” Geller claims the Danish toy manufacturer has managed to monopolize the market of brick building toys for 40-years. Best-Lock has previously won legal victories in subsidiary European Courts against LEGO in both 2004 and 2010, each time strengthening Best-Lock’s right to market their alternative.
LEGO’s dominance in the market is entrenched by its global profile extending to blockbusters, video games, and education. Whether in animated form for the cinema or gaming, LEGO maintains its idiosyncratic, jaundice chubbies. Ranging back from 1998, LEGO has produced 56 videogame titles across multiple platforms, and with the cinematic success of 2014’s The Lego Movie leading to a shortage of LEGO products, a sequel plus three spin-offs have been scheduled for 2017.
Moreover, a long commitment to education through foundations, websites, projects, and competitions has recently culminated in the pending approval of a professorship in LEGO at Cambridge University. This academic venture was supported with a donation of $4 million by the LEGO Foundation, a corporate foundation owning 25 % of the Danish company.
Competitors have contrasted the apparent benevolence of LEGO with claims of monopolization since the patent on basic building blocks expired in 1978. In, 2005 Geller of Best-Lock told the New York times that LEGO’s protectionism means that “‘Lego’s public image is totally different from the reality of the company” and that the market dominance is held artificially by imposing substantial legal fees on competitors in trademark disputes.
In light of LEGO’s recent financial recovery and shrinking market share, the competition from other companies are challenging the company to maintain its ethos of playing fair.