IP Strategy – Playing monopoly to win

Remember this? 

Rubik’s Cube®

I remember when the Rubik’s cube® hit the shelves in shops around the UK.  Years before the internet was invented, it nevertheless became an overnight sensation and everyone I knew had one.  People started bragging about how quickly they could solve it.  I never could (without a cheat sheet), but in my defence, I don’t think I applied myself to it wholeheartedly – there were so many other things to be done, such as taping the Top 40 from Radio 1, which took hours of concerted effort, stopping and starting the recording to cut out the DJ’s links. 

But I digress…

The Patent

The Rubik’s cube was invented by Hungarian professor, Erno Rubik, and in 1983 he was awarded a US patent (No. 4378116) entitled, rather cryptically, “Spatial Logical Toy”, which I think says more about patent attorneys than it does about the device itself.  At that time, a US company called Ideal Toys were exploiting the rights and making and selling the toys.

Since then, the rights have passed to a British company, Seven Towns, which manages the Rubik’s Cube® intellectual property rights. 

The trademarks

However, the patent expired many years ago, leaving the way open, at least in theory, for other companies to make and sell similar toys, although they couldn’t call them Rubik’s Cubes® because that is, and remains, a registered trade mark.  But a little while before the patent expired, Seven Towns decided to file an application for registration of the cube as a 3D EU trade mark.

Why did they do that?  Well, in theory, trade mark registrations can last forever, subject to payment of periodic renewal fees, so the intention was, clearly, an attempt to extend their monopoly beyond the life of the patent.  And it worked for a while.  The 3D trade mark was registered and will, inevitably, have served as a deterrent to third parties that might otherwise have taken a similar toy to market.  However, in in 2016, after a German company, Simba, challenged the validity of the 3D trade mark (and after a very lengthy and undoubtedly costly fight), the European Court of Justice decided that the cube was not a valid 3D trade mark.

The value of a good IP strategy

It just goes to show the hidden value of intellectual property rights.  Seven Towns may never know how many companies were deterred from entering their market, first by the patent and then by the 3D trade mark registration. The Rubik’s Cube ® remains one of the best selling toys of all time, with over 400 million sold worldwide.   And, even though the patent expired and the 3D trade mark was, eventually invalidated, and although it is almost impossible to accurately calculate the true value they added to the success of the owners of these IP rights, it is evident that they played a huge role in helping to make this toy the household name it still is today.

IP Strategy

If you need any IP advice for your business, please book a free initial consultation by emailing vicki.strachan@strachanip.co.uk or go to our website https://strachanip.co.uk/contact/

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