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EU Court clears the path for Lego men to keep walking
Lego has won a victory in the General Court of the European Union over the validity of the trademark protection of its Lego men figures. A Lancashire based toy manufacturer, Best-Lock, appealed against the Lego trade mark for the famous Lego man shape which prevents other toy makers creating similar products.
The shape of a product can be registered as a trade mark if it is sufficiently distinctive that consumers will be able to recognise the origin of the product. The basis of Best-Lock’s argument was that the shape of Lego men is determined by their ability to be connected together like building blocks, submitting that Lego men simply serve a technical function rather than being a distinctive form capable of recognition.
A shape may be precluded from trade mark protection if it serves a technical function, and in 2010, the ECJ prevented Lego from registering a trade mark for its classic building block due to the fact that to do so would prevent others from utilising a simple technical building shape. If the court held that Lego men were simply building blocks, then Lego’s trade mark would have been invalid.
However, in the case of the figures, the court found that the technical element – the ability to connect the figures to other Lego pieces – was not fundamental to the shape or any essential characteristic of the figures. So the trade mark of the 3D shape still stands and Lego men remain protected.
This decision is a great reminder to businesses that trade mark registration is possible not only for words and graphics but also for the distinctive shape of products.