Are LEGO bricks protected?


LEGO bricks are a popular toy around the world. But are they legally protected?

The origin of the LEGO

Originally, the founders of LEGO sought to invent a toy that would allow children to build according to their imagination. LEGO's founder, Ole Kirk Kristiansen, created the name LEGO in 1934. He took the first two letters of the Danish words "LEG GODT," which means "play well",  unaware of the curious coincidence that ”lego” also means "I put together" In Latin.

A patent for a toy

The LEGO brick inventors, Axel Thomesen and Kirk Kristiansen, used pegs and tubes to connect the playing bricks, enabling unlimited building possibilities - only six of those bricks can be combined in 915,103,765 ways! In the 1950s, recognizing the invention’s importance, LEGO filed a patent application for a "building block for toys", paving the way for the LEGO brick we know today.

The issue with patents, however, is that they cannot be prolonged past their expiration date. LEGO thus decided to protect itself through trademarks instead, the validity of which can be extended indefinitely. The original patents expired in 2011, while LEGO attempted to extend protection by registering the LEGO brick as a three-dimensional trademark from as early as 1996 – but unsuccessfully. Its biggest competitor, Mega Brands, challenged it in court and eventually won.

Limitations of trademarks

LEGO would have succeeded in registering the 3D trademark if not for one legal roadblock. Trademarks cannot be registered if they describe the product's function (well-known trademarks depict the shape of products like the Coca-Cola bottle or Toblerone chocolate, but not their technical function). So, how does the LEGO brick‘s shape define its function? The answer lies directly in the patent LEGO filed in the 50s, where the LEGO brick's shape and interlocking function are described at length.

"Two symmetrical rows of four studs in cylindrical shape on the upper surface of the patented brick are necessary for them to interlock and perform their function. Additionally, the studs' height compared to the brick walls' height affects the 'clutch power'. If this ratio were too small, the bricks would not hold together. Conversely, if the ratio were too large, the force required to disassemble the bricks would be too great for a child to manage. Therefore, the registering authority concluded that all elements of the LEGO brick serve certain technical functions. There is nothing fanciful or decorative about the LEGO brick."

- EU Patent Office

Therefore, the three-dimensional trademark for LEGO was partially invalidated in 2010 for building bricks with the following limitation: Games and playthings, except construction toys.

Other strategies

While construction blocks cannot be protected, attention should be paid to other parts of the LEGO system where legal protection is in place, such as mini-figures. Additionally, LEGO often registers new patents within the EU, some of which are validated in the Czech Republic.

For example, LEGO recently patented an innovative plastic material for brick fabrication, which is injected using resin containing PET polyester (polyethylene terephthalate). Furthermore, LEGO strives to protect "LEGO bricks" in virtual environments through gaming systems, where the user controls a virtual character in a virtual environment or a virtual game using physical toys. Their patents also cover various gaming and building systems and figures with new features.

So, are the LEGO bricks legally protected? The answer is no - but almost everything else in the LEGO universe is.