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Patents and trade marks – solving the legal puzzle

Earlier this month, the European Union’s Court of Justice ruled that the Rubik’s Cube does not qualify for trade mark protection, meaning that other toymakers are permitted to produce their own versions of the iconic puzzle game. Lodders’ Intellectual Property specialist Krishna Ubhi explains this case and how it highlights the uses of trade marks and patents for businesses.

The use of a registered trade mark secures exclusive rights to a business’ goods or services and distinguishes them from those of competitors. Back in 1999, the three-dimensional shape of the Rubik’s Cube was registered as a trade mark with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), meaning that nobody else could legally reproduce this design.

In 2006, German toymaker Simba Toys launched a legal challenge that would develop into a decade-long battle to clarify the intellectual property rights of the Rubik’s Cube.

As part of their case, Simba Toys argued that the shape of the game should instead be protected by a patent, something which offers legal protection only for a certain amount of time. Initially, the case was dismissed after review by the EUIPO and a lower European Union court, but after this decision was appealed, the EU Court of Justice ruled in favour of Simba Toys, holding that the puzzle game had too much functionality. They commented that the initial decision to reject the application prevented “an undertaking from being granted a monopoly on technical solutions or functional characteristics of a product”.

This recent ruling means that although the Rubik’s name is still protected, third parties including Simba Toys are able to recreate the cube’s unique structure.

Commenting on this case, Krishna states: “This is not a surprising result as a recent application by Nestle in relation to the 3D shape of KitKat bars was also rejected. That said, the decision paves the way for cheaper alternative products to enter the market, which is beneficial to consumers. Companies with 3D trade marks will certainly be assessing how worthwhile those registrations are”.

If you would like to find out more about trade marks, patents, copyrights and other Intellectual Property services, click here for more information on how Lodders can help.

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Get in touch

To find out more information on this story, contact Krishna Ubhi on 01789 206163. Click here to visit Lodders’ Intellectual Property page.