I recognise the idea is great, since it’s a toy both for boys and girls, there are so many themes, that every child can choose their favourite: City, Pirates, Medieval, Futuristic, Star Wars, Sports… and also many other series like Technic, Duplo, Ninjago, Bionicle…
The plastic blocks were invented in 1949, although the company exists since 1932. Between those years, the company also had construction blocks, but they were made of wood. The history of the company is very well documented, so this time I’ll talk about trademark infringement. It was not so long ago, that the Canadian company MegaBrands was exonerated from copying the construction block from Lego for their MegaBloks toy-line: first in 2006, by the Supreme Court of Canada, and then in 2008 by the European Union’s High Court of Justice, after the lawsuit was accepted by the OHIM (Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market).
In the first case, the Canadian patent for the Lego blocks had expired in 1988, so the 25M US$ Lego claimed as damage, were dismissed. In the second case, the European court tried that Lego blocks “merely performs a technical function and cannot be registered as a trademark”, and therefore should be available for everybody. Since this judgement, many companies have copied Lego blocks, with different qualities and sets.
A story that is not very well known, and that was only available on the internet in Spanish until now, is that Exin was already judged in the 80s for copying the block system for their toy-line Tente. The judgement took place in Israel, were Lego and Tente shared the market of construction toys. Lego wanted to reduce the concurrence in this country and in all the others in which Tente was present. It is believed, that Lego chose Israel for being a far country, and that Tente/Exin wouldn’t be able to afford the costs of a trial there.
The High Court of Israel judged similarly to the European High Court of Justice, and Exin was not guilty of infringement of copyright. If it had been judged the opposite, Tente would have needed to pay copyrights to Tente, what would have made the toys more expensive.
Tente was not merely a copy of Lego: since its creation in 1972, Exin improved the original idea and obtained several international patent registries. Compared to Lego, a Tente piece could be connected to another one in up to three times more ways. One system was not compatible with the other one, even though the bricks had absolutely identical dimensions.
After the closure of Exin, the rights of Tente were bought by Borras, that kept the line until 2007. Now it has disappeared, but another construction systems, like TecniToys' Construblock are available in the spanish market. Tecnitoys is the company that currently owns the rights of Scalextric and that has between their most important leaders members of the Arnau family, founders of Exin (Lluis María Arnau is the current R&D manager). Construblock sets are compatible with Lego.
Since the article is longer than I expected, just a few words about the Weekend Home set form 1985. It includes 177 pieces and two minifigs. It is specially interesting since the house includes a kitchen, a bedroom plus two more rooms and in the garden, a barbecue. The worst part is the side of the house, that doesn't look that well. The bike is also a great complement.
FACTS and FIGURES:
- Name: WEEKEND HOME (Ref. 6370)
- Toy Line: Lego City
- Year: 1985
- Company: Lego (Denmark)
- Size: 25 x 13 x 12 cm
- Scale: 1:48