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Toys Government The Courts News

Lego Loses Its Unique Right To Make Lego Blocks 576

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the this-could-be-huge dept.
tsa writes "The European Department of Justice has decided that the Danish company Lego does not have exclusive rights to the lego building block anymore (sorry, it's in Dutch). Lego went to court after a Canadian firm had made blocks that were so like lego blocks that they even fit the real blocks made by Lego. The European judge decided that the design of the lego blocks is not protected by European trademarks and so anyone can make the blocks." If true, hopefully this will open doors for people interested in inexpensive bulk purchase of bricks of specific sizes and colors. Perhaps at long last I can build a life-sized Hemos statue for my office.
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Lego Loses Its Unique Right To Make Lego Blocks

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  • makes sense (Score:5, Funny)

    by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:03PM (#25735025)

    Lego was naar het Europese Hof van justitie gestapt in de strijd tegen de Canadese concurrent Mega Brands, die een blokje op de markt heeft gebracht dat past op die van Lego. Het Hof oordeelde vandaag dat het ontwerp van Lego niet is beschermd door het Europees merkenrecht en dat er dus geen sprake mag zijn van alleenrecht.

    Can't really argue with that....

    • by cowscows (103644) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:05PM (#25735055) Journal

      Damn. I'm only 28 and already I'm so old that I can't make sense of this "leet-speak" that kids are using these days.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:35PM (#25735529)

        Lego was naar het Europese Hof van justitie gestapt in de strijd tegen de Canadese concurrent Mega Brands, die een blokje op de markt heeft gebracht dat past op die van Lego. Het Hof oordeelde vandaag dat het ontwerp van Lego niet is beschermd door het Europees merkenrecht en dat er dus geen sprake mag zijn van alleenrecht.

        My shot at it:

        Lego was near hot European Hasselhoff just in time to gestate in the stride generator concurrent with the Canada geese Mega Brands, ...okay, I give up...

        • by NuclearError (1256172) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:59PM (#25735895)
          No, it's "My European Lego hovercraft is fulls of eels."
          • by theaveng (1243528) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @01:20PM (#25736207)

            Babel Fish to the rescue:

            "Lego had stepped to the European Court of Justice in the fight against the Canadian competitor Mega fire, which a cube on the market has brought that watches out which of Lego. The court judged today that the design of Lego has not been protected by the European merkenrecht and that there can no talk be therefore of exclusive right."

            Hmmm. Well my fish is almost 40 years old.

            "Lego was, according to the European Court of Justice objected in the fight against the Canadian competitor mega brands, which is a cube on the market that has brought shall apply to those of Lego. The Court ruled today that the design of Lego not protected by the European trademark law and that there is no question of exclusive rights."

            Nope. Still sounds like nonsense.

            Here's what Deutsche Welle says: "The European Union's Court of First Instance turned down Lego's appeal to force the EU's trademarks and designs office to reissue its trademark for the shape of its standard red Lego brick with eight cylindrical knobs.

            "The EU court, however, sided with a 2004 decision made by the EU agency, which had canceled Lego's trademark after rival toy maker Canada's Mega Brands Inc. filed an appeal to Lego's application. Mega Brands produces similar plastic building blocks that compete with Lego."

            • Here's what Deutsche Welle says: "The European Union's Court of First Instance turned down Lego's appeal to force the EU's trademarks and designs office to reissue its trademark for the shape of its standard red Lego brick with eight cylindrical knobs. "The EU court, however, sided with a 2004 decision made by the EU agency, which had canceled Lego's trademark after rival toy maker Canada's Mega Brands Inc. filed an appeal to Lego's application. Mega Brands produces similar plastic building blocks that com
        • by msh104 (620136) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @01:13PM (#25736111)

          Lego was naar het Europese Hof van justitie gestapt in de strijd tegen de Canadese concurrent Mega Brands, die een blokje op de markt heeft gebracht dat past op die van Lego. Het Hof oordeelde vandaag dat het ontwerp van Lego niet is beschermd door het Europees merkenrecht en dat er dus geen sprake mag zijn van alleenrecht.

          Perhaps less fun..
          But here is the more correct ( though quick and quite literal ) translation:

          Lego went to the "Europese Hof" (a very high justice department in europe) in a battle against the Canadian competitor Mega Brands, who created a brick that fits on the lego brick. The "Hof" decided today that the design of Lego is not protected by the European Market rights, and that there thus cannot be any case for exclusive ownership.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by 10e6Steve (545457)

      Lego had stepped to the European Court of Justice in the fight against the Canadian competitor Mega fire, which a cube on the market has brought that watches out which of Lego. The court judged today that the design of Lego has not been protected by the European merkenrecht and that there can no talk be therefore of exclusive right.

      From the babelfish

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:43PM (#25735613)

      Yeah, on the one hand, the race to the bottom wins again.

      On the other hand, Lego is a socially responsible company with zero waste, excellent pay and bennies for all employees, and an all around good company. I hope this doesn't mean the collapse of the Danish economy. I mean, they pretty much have Legos, Bang and Olfsen, Hans Christian Anderson... and that's about it.

      • by theaveng (1243528) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @01:24PM (#25736273)

        You forgot the red-light districts.

        Not that I've ever been there. Nope. Uh huh. Nyet. I'm just a Puritan American and have no clue what "red light" means. Yep.

      • Re:makes sense, meh (Score:5, Informative)

        by gfxguy (98788) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @01:38PM (#25736527)

        Yeah... I look at this as a mixed blessing.

        I have a substantial collection of Lego, and I have a single MegaBlocks model... as much as I hate to say it, there's really a difference in quality. The Lego plastic is actually superior, and the quality of the molds must be better, too.

        So while I'd like to be able to buy bulk packs of pieces (which I've done via bricklink for some years now) at cheap prices (at an average approaching $0.10 piece for a little piece of molded plastic?), I certainly wouldn't accept lower quality just to get cheaper pieces.

        I'm all for competition, though. If Lego reduces prices (I know they whine they are barely making it... which is just baffling to me), then I'll be all over it. I mean, go ahead and charge $50 for a 400 piece Star Wars set... but let me buy bulk bricks to build my mega (no pun intended) structures, and I'll be a happy guy.

        Sometimes on bricklink you can find pieces you like for less than a penny a piece... unfortunately, while I admit I don't look very often, I haven't seen that kind of deal in some time.

        • Re:makes sense, meh (Score:5, Informative)

          by mollymoo (202721) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @02:20PM (#25737147) Journal

          I have a substantial collection of Lego, and I have a single MegaBlocks model... as much as I hate to say it, there's really a difference in quality. The Lego plastic is actually superior, and the quality of the molds must be better, too.

          Lego are utterly fantastic at making their bricks. They're mind-bogglingly good, in fact. To work properly, Lego bricks must be made to a tolerance of one micron, otherwise models would fall apart or the bricks be too hard to separate. Those little plastic bricks are as precisely engineered as the most precisely engineered components in the most expensive Swiss watch. They've been making them exactly the right size since the 1960s - the bricks you or you parents had in the 60s will still work perfectly with the bricks they make today.

          • Re:makes sense, meh (Score:5, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @02:39PM (#25737495)
            They've been making them in high quality since the mid 70's. I have Lego sets ranging from around the 50's to sets made in 2004 (albeit only a few in the 1965-90 and 1997-2004 ranges). The ones from the 1950's show quite a bit of wear and tear (structurally, not aesthetically), and will actually degrade large structures built using them (not as badly as Megablocks, but still weaker than newer Legos). It's not until (late) 1970 stuff that blocks start improving in quality, such that I can't tell the difference between a worn 1979 block and a worn 1999 block.

            They've only been making them excatly right since 1980.

          • by randyest (589159) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @03:20PM (#25738055) Homepage

            To work properly, Lego bricks must be made to a tolerance of one micron, otherwise models would fall apart or the bricks be too hard to separate.

            Source? Sorry, no one in their right mind will believe this without more data than some random /.'er claiming it. I mean, sure, there's a tolerance, and according to LEGO company (Warning: PDF, see page 18) [lego.com] it's "as small as 2um" (twice a loose tolerance as your claim.) To me, the "as small as" bit means "no smaller than, and often larger than" so please share why you think it's always twice as accurate as LEGO claims it sometimes is.

        • by ChaosDiscord (4913) * on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @02:21PM (#25737163) Homepage Journal

          The Lego plastic is actually superior, and the quality of the molds must be better, too.

          So why is it a mixed blessing? If Lego's products are better, they'll win on quality and be worth the price. Or perhaps the general public doesn't value the difference, in which case the public gets what it wants. This is capitalism working well: competition, with competitors competing on quality and price and consumers having options.

          • by gfxguy (98788) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @02:35PM (#25737439)

            It's a mixed blessing because of exactly what you point out...

            I think people will go for low prices, and before they realize it was a mistake, Lego will already be out of business. You'll say the customers have chosen (they have), but even most of them will realize they chose wrongly only after it was too late.

            • by alexhmit01 (104757) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @03:10PM (#25737925)

              Once a week my son goes and plays at my parents house for a few hours. The Brio trains from when I was a kid still work great, but the cheap knock off add on parts my parents bought to have more for him are crap... they had to find an affordable retailer online to get more stuff. As he's moving past the real little kid blocks and into Duplo, the fact that everything from my childhood held up is remarkable.

              However, just about everything that we buy on the market at this point, is cheap and crappy. It's gotten to the point that we just buy whatever is cheapest at Walmart, because trying to get the higher end stuff isn't higher end, just more expensive. Why pay twice as much for the same falling apart plastic junk from the same factories in China? After churning through $100+ car seats, we not just get the $40 ones at Walmart, and when they go, we replace them. I have two kids, 18 months apart, and just about none of the stuff gets handed down because EVERYTHING on the market is poorly made.

              It's easy to blame consumers, but a lot is a function of smaller family sizes. The generation born in the 70s was born when average family sizes were over 2.5 kids, so 2-3 was normal, and plenty of families of 4-5 existed. Family sizes for middle class families (the ones that buy this stuff) are probably under 1.5 right now... If most of your customers won't have a second kid, why would they pay more for quality, it's not getting passed down.

              America just isn't child friendly anymore... and we have fewer kids in each family... can't put 3 kids in a normal sized sedan, need either a giant sedan, SUV, or minivan with a third kid, and kids under 13 aren't supposed to ride up front... WTF? The sedan was the quintessential family car... now a mom running small carpool with 4 kids in her car needs a minivan because you can't put one up front and 3 in the back, something that was routine for us growing up as kids.

              Alex

          • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @02:49PM (#25737621)

            The Lego plastic is actually superior, and the quality of the molds must be better, too.

            So why is it a mixed blessing? If Lego's products are better, they'll win on quality and be worth the price. Or perhaps the general public doesn't value the difference, in which case the public gets what it wants. This is capitalism working well: competition, with competitors competing on quality and price and consumers having options.

            Quality doesn't win in this market. You can win on marketing, but not on quality. This ruling means there will soon be lead-tainted Lego-compatible pieces made in a certain Asian country and sold mostly through Walmart. Yeah, they'll break, discolor, and not fit together all that well, but they'll be significantly cheaper than genuine Legos, because Lego can't get away with paying its employees $2500 a year. And these new parts will soon outsell Lego. Now Lego does have a good marketing position, given their great brand recognition, and they'll make a lot more money per part. This will slowly erode, however, until Lego branded parts are a either niche market for elitist liberals who buy their groceries at farmers markets, or it will go away entirely.

            Just so you know.

            • by snaz555 (903274) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @06:05PM (#25740249)

              It's definitely a race to the bottom, because most parents have no clue what they buy their kids. The #1 goal of buying something is to shut the kid up. The #2 goal is to surprise the kid with a gift. And a $10 CrapKit will do either just as well as a $50 quality one. Toys are considered disposable. And the kid has no clue about concepts like quality and functionality - as long as it looks the part. (Brand recognition is a factor.) The kid will play with the CrapKit, find it difficult to proceed beyond the basics, and will likely grow tired of it because of its limitations. The parent will observe that the hotly desired toy stops being played with after a few days or weeks and pats themselves on the back for being cheap and wonders why anyone would buy the expensive version. They leave this to the people with more money than sense. It's a self-reinforcing spiral, simply because the average person is average intelligence, which means if you even bring up the subject of developing intelligence they'll look at you like you're from a different planet. It's just not something that they ever spend a single brain cycle on. Hey, they came out alright... right?

              I always played with Legos when I was a kid. Well, to my parents it was playing, to me it was construction projects. As I got older they became ever better planned and thought out, and I'd carefully plan around the parts available. My parents never saw that part. They viewed Lego, I'm sure, as the equivalent of a crayon and a sheet of paper.

              By the time I was 10 or so I built things like flexible suspension bridges (suspended with string) that could carry my HO size train set across 3 feet or more, to replicas of buildings I read about. Lego is a fantastic tool for early development of an innate sense of force distribution; in particular how to design for forces to distribute into compression with little pulling (depending on axis) and close to zero twisting. It encourages focusing on difficult problems somewhat beyond the current skill, then learning through failure and developing an innate sense for how to further improve something that a bystander might already be impressed by or think is beyond good enough.

              My take on it is that every parent should buy their kid real, quality Lego. Mostly generic blocks. At least give it a try. Because if the kid takes to it - boy are you getting something of real value for dirt cheap!

        • Re:makes sense, meh (Score:4, Interesting)

          by steelfood (895457) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @02:21PM (#25737175)

          According to one interview I read somewhere, the most expensive Lego parts to manufacture are the mini-figs. I believe they cost something like a little over $1 US to manufacture.

          Lego uses very precise molds. It is the key to the Lego bricks' distinctiveness, and why they fit well. Old molds are destroyed by burying them in the concrete foundation of buildings. They also have several different kinds of plastic to create different specialized bricks and pieces. People can replicate the design of the bricks and sell them cheaper, but I don't think they can replicate the manufacturing process and not be forced to raise prices.

          I have yet to read TFA (go figure), but I'm guessing this has something to do with Lego trying to maintain IP protection on their brick design by claiming that their trademarked logo is on the stud, and therefore the idea of a stud is trademarked as well.

          • Re:makes sense, meh (Score:4, Interesting)

            by gfxguy (98788) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @02:47PM (#25737591)

            [i]According to one interview I read somewhere, the most expensive Lego parts to manufacture are the mini-figs. I believe they cost something like a little over $1 US to manufacture.[/i]

            I believe it, but it's still mind boggling that, after all this time, despite how precise their molds are, that it costs so much for a molded piece of plastic.

            Even if the plastic is super high quality, you're only getting a couple of grams of it.

            How long does it take for a high quality mold to require replacement when it's just molding plastic? I don't know.

            Still, it seems to me that technological advances should make it cheaper for them to be able to produce those parts... ultimately it's still just molded plastic.

            • Re:makes sense, meh (Score:4, Informative)

              by thechao (466986) <jaroslov@gmPOLLOCKail.com minus painter> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @08:15PM (#25741587)

              Probably too late for a proper reply. An old roommate of mine used to occasionally make dies. Like anything in manufacturing, pick two of three: accurate, hard-wearing, cheap. For high-speed production you need to make especially costly dies; even a cheap die for something the size of one Lego brick would set you back several hundred dollars, and you couldn't expect to use a very dense/high-quality plastic with it (due to injection pressures), nor expect it to last much beyond a few dozen or scores of casts for any sort of reasonable accuracy. I suppose for very high tolerances, sharp narrow edges (which Lego have), high speed, and hard plastics you would be paying many thousands (or more?) for the die; the costs grow enormously if you want a die for large pieces, i.e., more than a few square cm. And you would have to replace the die fairly often. The cost of the plastic is trivial compared to the capital cost of the die.

              As for technological advances... well, there's only so much you can do to make tooling steel better; basically, it is a materials-science question, and the advances there are not quick. For instance, except for CAD/CAM there have not been significant advances in tooling that would help in the manufacture of the die, that I know of, for probably the last 50 years.

        • Re:makes sense, meh (Score:4, Informative)

          by x102output (536049) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @02:49PM (#25737613)
          Just visited a LEGO store at a mall in San Jose. They have a wall of Lego piece dispensers all individually filled with unique common Lego pieces. You can grab a cup for 7 bucks, or a bigger one for 14 bucks, and fill it up with as much pieces as you can fit. Definitely beats bricklink. check it out!
          • Re:makes sense, meh (Score:4, Informative)

            by gfxguy (98788) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @02:52PM (#25737667)

            I have one of those stores here (in GA), and it's actually very conveniently located for me...

            I go there all the time, but there's only a few dozen types of pieces at a time, and those ROUND cups they have make it difficult to effectively use the space in them.

            But I have bought pieces there plenty of times... but it surely doesn't beat bricklink when I want black or white or even gray 2x4 bricks and all they have is pink or purple 2x2 and 2x3, some fence pieces I don't want... the small car plates (but no wheels)...

            But they rotate inventory in and so I do go there occasionally.

        • Re:makes sense, meh (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @03:03PM (#25737821)

          I totally agree. We recently "polluted" my son's Lego collection with MegaBlocks, and after several tearful episodes ("They won't stick together!" "They don't fit!") have decided to root this evil from our house. They're a scourge.

        • by Neoprofin (871029) <neoprofinNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @03:28PM (#25738177)
          The problem is when you buy a set of Legos most of the premium you pay isn't going for superior build quality, it's going for licensing because you're getting "Harry Potter" or "Star Wars" wrapped up in the deal, but don't worry they're nice enough to spread the cost to all their lines.

          You also have to deal with the politics of Lego. No modern weapons, no Nazis for Indiana Jones to foil. I love my Legos, and the build quality is superior, but there are plenty of other reasons to shop Megablocks.
      • Re:makes sense, meh (Score:4, Informative)

        by v1 (525388) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @03:25PM (#25738149) Homepage Journal

        they make good quality legos too. I was waxing nostalgic last year and bought a generic bin of legos at kmart or something, it wasn't lego brand but looked identical, and they held together like crap.

        I remember taking my 2x8 blocks and seeing how far I could get them to extend horizontally while stacked, and could get over 50 sometimes. The crappy new ones were lucky to see 10.

        I also made things that required proper tolerance. I made a working lego lock. Tried to make one with the new blocks but they kept catching on each other. crap I say. Pay the money and get the real Lego.

    • by jonaskoelker (922170) <jonaskoelker&gnu,org> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:51PM (#25735751) Homepage

      I can make out this:

      Lego was at the European Court gestapt in the fight against the Canadia competitor Mega Brands, who has brought to the market a block that passes for those from Lego. The court oordeelde vandaag that the ontwerp van Lego isn't proctected through the European trademark and that er dus geen sprake mag is van exclusive right.

      Run that through dict-freedict-nld-eng and a copywriter to get some sensible english. Or run it through kenny to get

      Pmfmppmfmppf fppmmmfmm mmmfmp fmpmfpmpp Mppfmfpffppfpfmmppmmmppp Mmfppffmfpfffmp mfmmppfmmfmpmmmpfmfmp mffppp fmpmfpmpp mpfmffmfmmfpfmp mmmmfmmmmmffpppfmmfmp fmpmfpmpp Mmfmmmpppmmmmpmmffmmm mmfppfppmpfmmppfmpmfffmpppfpff Ppmmppmfmmmm Mmppffmmmpppmpmfmm, fppmfpppf mfpmmmfmm mmppffppffmfmfmmfpfmp fmpppf fmpmfpmpp ppmmmmpffpmpmppfmp mmm mmppmfppfmmfpmp fmpmfpmmmfmp pfmmmmfmmfmmmppfmm mpfppfpff fmpmfpppffmmmpp mpfpffppfppm Pmfmppmfmppf. Fmpmfpmpp mmfppffmfpfffmp ppfppfpffmpmmppmpppmfmpmmpp fpmmmmpppmpmmmmmmmmfm fmpmfpmmmfmp fmpmfpmpp ppfpppfmpfppmpppffpfm fpmmmmppp Pmfmppmfmppf mfffmmppp'fmp pfmpffppfmmffmpmppmmffmpmppmpm fmpmfppffppffmfmfmmfp fmpmfpmpp Mppfmfpffppfpfmmppmmmppp fmppffmmmmpmmppppmmmmpffpmp mmmpppmpm fmpmfpmmmfmp mpppff mpmfmffmm mfmmppmppppp fmmpfmpffmmmpmpmpp ppmmmmmfm mfffmm fpmmmmppp mppfpfmmfpmffmffmmmfffpmmpp pffmffmfmmfpfmp.

      (apt-get install filters)

    • Google Translation (Score:5, Informative)

      by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <obsessivemathsfreakNO@SPAMeircom.net> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @01:05PM (#25735997) Homepage Journal

      Lego was to the European Court of Justice and were active in the fight against the Canadian competitor Mega Brands, which is a block on the market that fits that of Lego. The Court ruled today that the design of Lego is not protected by the trademark and that there should be no question of monopoly.

      Here's the translated page [google.com]. And no, BabelFish did not produce a translation of the same quality.

      Google frightens me sometimes. Almost every day now.

    • by zoomshorts (137587) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @01:29PM (#25736347)

      My son had LEGO blocks, but I soon discovered that they have sharp
      pointy edges, and hurt when you step on them barefooted in the dark.

      Needless to say, any block I encountered in the dark disappeared. Soon
      he had none. That never did teach him to pick up his toys. Grrrrr.

  • English translation (Score:5, Informative)

    by jschen (1249578) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:04PM (#25735053)
    http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,3784225,00.html [dw-world.de] The news is not that generic blocks didn't previously exist. It's that Lego is unable to retain the trademark.
    • by OwnedByTwoCats (124103) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:15PM (#25735217)

      Lego is unable to retain its trademark

      • on the shape of the blocks

      (or, in particular, the red, 2x4 block). So it sounds like others will be able to make compatible blocks.

      Had Lego lost their trademark on the Lego name, that would have been much worse.

    • by gregbot9000 (1293772) <mckinleg@csusb.edu> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:34PM (#25735515) Journal
      Well, I'm surprised they were able to have anything like that this long. They have been around 50 years, any patent should have ran out years ago. Interesting they would try to trademark the block, which doesn't run out, good thing it didn't work, for the consumer at least.

      I see Lego announcing a change in which country it resides in, to one more favorable towards corporations in trademark laws. That or outsourcing few plants to China to stay competitive.

      And whats with all the toy stories and polls? Is /. gearing up for some big holiday push?
      • Already there. (Score:3, Informative)

        by Comboman (895500)

        I see Lego announcing a change in which country it resides in, to one more favorable towards corporations in trademark laws.

        They're already in one. Lego has been able to keep Mega Blocks from selling in Europe until now via this bogus trademark law, but that was the last holdout. Most countries have already ruled against Lego [wikipedia.org] on this issue.

  • by TrickFred (231420) <trickfred@ g m a i l .com> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:06PM (#25735077)

    My kids have been playing with Mega Bloks for years. When you can buy big buckets of them for $20 when Lego costs $100 or more for the bigger sets, well, the choice is obvious.

    • by Black Cardinal (19996) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:12PM (#25735175) Homepage

      We bought some Mega Bloks for our son, but the plastic they used (polypropylene?) is too soft to keep a good grip. Duplos are made out of ABS plastic that holds its shape much better, so the blocks stay locked and structures stay together. We can't even build a simple staircase out of Mega Bloks without frustration. Constructions have to have twice as many Mega Bloks as Duplos to have the same strength.

      While though the Mega Bloks are cheaper, we'll probably stick to Duplo and Lego for the future.

      • by Fishead (658061) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:16PM (#25735239)

        I agree. Mega blocks are crap.

        We picked up a huge bin at a garage sale last summer. Most of it was Lego, but there was just enough Mega Blocks to frustrate you. They don't fit right, they don't hold very good, and the colours suck.

        I am a big fan of competition. Hopefully this drives down the price of real legos.

        If they lost the trademark though, Mega Blocks can start marketing their product as lego. That would suck.

        • by TaoPhoenix (980487) * <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:29PM (#25735427) Journal

          Following their pattern of Wait & BadlyCopy, Microsoft will announce the need for the strategic purchase of Mega so they can Embrace the Blocks, Extend, and Extinguish Lego!

        • by 2short (466733) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:33PM (#25735497)
          "I agree. Mega blocks are crap.

          We picked up a huge bin at a garage sale last summer. "

          Older Mega blocks are crap. Mega Blocks produced in recent years are just as mechanically good as Lego, and after this decision might start looking as good too.

          Lego has had various varieties of legal protections on their blocks in various countries. They had some patents on elements of their production process that prevented others from making good blocks cheap; hence the crappy Mega Blocks. Those patents expired a while ago, so MegaBlocks became good.
              Lego still had a trademarks in various countries on the look of the iconic red brick. Hence the different colour scheme you don't like. That trademark is now gone, so expect Mega Blocks to start looking nice.
              Lego still has, and presumably always will have, a trademark on the name "Lego". So they'll continue to benefit from their (well deserved) reputation for quality, and charge more for their bricks. But MegaBlocks might, now, be just as good.
          • by Black Cardinal (19996) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:47PM (#25735673) Homepage

            Older Mega blocks are crap. Mega Blocks produced in recent years are just as mechanically good as Lego, and after this decision might start looking as good too.

            We bought our Mega Bloks new two years ago. Unless they changed their materials very recently, I think they are still pretty bad.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by 2short (466733)

              I notice in your other post, you mention Duplo: one of Lego's oversize, toddler-frienly lines. MegaBloks also makes some over-size toddler blocks, but I don't know if they have a specific name for them. My experience with those is that Duplo blocks hold together better, but are harder for little, poorly coordinated hands to stick together. So I take that to be an intentionally different design decision.

              In any case, the trademark decision at hand, and my post, is not about the toddler blocks. It's about
        • by Fallingcow (213461) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:38PM (#25735571) Homepage

          I got a huge Mega Blocks tyrannosaurus set one year for Christmas.

          I never managed to assemble it--not for lack of trying, but because the blocks weren't capable of supporting the structure. Legos would have done it, no problem, but the Mega Blocks invariably came apart around 1/3 to 1/2 of the way through. Any more, and they'd fall apart under the weight. My parents even tried glueing some parts when they saw how much it sucked, but that didn't help; it would just break in different places.

          No grip. Can't build anything big with them. Certainly can't move even mid-sized things constructed from them, let alone play with your constructions. LAME.

        • We use the mega blocks and duplo blocks, both. There both okay for pretending.

          However, I've found that both I and my kids cannot easily take legos apart. In addition, the form factor of legos makes it easy to make their intended toy (if you want to spend the time), but comparatively hard to make other things.

          I remember the days of American Bricks, though, when we'd make marble machines, spaceships (tiny, med, large, and super), ships, and whatnot. Yeah, it didn't have all the specialized parts that lego

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        And this is the crux of the issue, IMHO.

        Pro: More companies will produce LEGO compatible parts, bring prices down and push availability up.

        Cons: LEGO has an incredibly high standard of quality for their product, and you can pretty much bet no other company will have that same commitment to quality.

        You get what you pay for.

        That said, though... Does this include their TECHNIC line of parts? 'cause they really don't seem to be producing the kits they used to. I wouldn't mind more bulk / non-specific project st

    • by Pope (17780) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:20PM (#25735303)

      My parents always bought me real Lego bricks, and I have practically all of those bricks/sets 30+ years on. They still click and snap like new. Good luck getting that kind of lifespan from the cheap knock-offs.

      Quality costs money, pure and simple. So, no, the choice isn't "obvious" at all.

      • by fractoid (1076465) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:47PM (#25735683) Homepage
        I can guarantee you that quality from one supplier who has an exclusive license costs a lot more money than quality amongst competition from different suppliers.

        Also, if it's protected by copyright then only cheap knockoff companies manufacturing in third world sweatshops will be willing to risk a lawsuit, whereas classier, higher-quality shops will shy away. Without IP encumbrance, you'll be able to get... more expensive knockoffs. ;)
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Tom (822)

          I can guarantee you that quality from one supplier who has an exclusive license costs a lot more money than quality amongst competition from different suppliers.

          They thought that when they opened the energy, telecom, train and many other markets.

          Judging from today's perspective, it turns out that the telecom market is the only one where something along the lines of what was promised has actually happened. In most of the other markets, quality has dropped, prices have gone up. Whoops, the exact opposite of what should have happened.

          Why? Two reasons.
          One, it turns out the former state-owned monopolies did actually take in monopoly rent, but since they had no compulsio

    • by dubbreak (623656) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:20PM (#25735315)
      Exactly. This is old news. Mega Blocks have been around for years and this issue came up in north america quite a while ago. Lego lost their suit because they don't have a patent on the block design. Claiming that a block the same shape and size is a trademark infringement is a bit of a reach. The proper IP vehicle would have been a patent (though maybe the lego block design was unpatentable?).
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      When I was about 12 years old (1993), Megablocks used stickers as opposed to the painted-on details that LEGO used. The stickers would fall off within a few days, so things like faces and such went blank on Megablocks, whereas it took a lot more time to scratch the paint off of LEGO blocks. Megablocks also seemed very light and never seemed to snap together as tightly as my LEGO blocks. In short, even as a 12 year old, I thought they were inferior and continued asked for LEGO specifically since I didn't lik
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by PitaBred (632671)

        It is exaggerated [lego.com] IMHO. 650 basic pieces including wheels and a base and windows and such for $30 in the US... that's not too bad, especially since you know the quality is going to be top-notch. If you don't want all the do-dads and just want a plain rectangular based block assortment, that's only $25 for 650 pieces.

    • by hellfire (86129) <deviladv@gmaMONETil.com minus painter> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:40PM (#25735595) Homepage

      Personally, I hated megablocks, because the bricks are not made with the same quality as Legos. Legos have a very exacting standard they make for each brick, to guarentee they fit together and stay together when you want to, and come apart when you need them to. Megablocks I found are looser, and don't stay together as often. I'm anal. I played with Legos when I was young, but when I grew up, my son and I put together some megablocks sets he got from someone else. The comparative quality was very poor.

      However, in terms of business, a competition between Megablocks and Legos is a good thing. Legos wants (I hope) to be a higher quality toy, while Megablocks is for those who are less anal and more frugal. They have carved out their own niches and provide choice for the consumer. Additional players in the market should help.

      At the same time, I hope someone tackles with the idea that lego sets are too specialized now. There are so many specialty pieces that it limits the amount you can create with a single set, and limits the replay value. Back in the 80s, there were tons of new pieces that weren't all just bricks, but those pieces could still be creatively used to build new models from your imagination. The odd shaped clear plastic panel that curls around the model just so and only has one real use is annoying.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Reziac (43301) *

        Agreed on all counts. I call this "one function only" type of "creativity" DOING THE PLAYING FOR THE CHILD. It actively *prevents* kids from being genuinely creative.

        Better to have to figure out how to create the specialty object from the generic parts -- now that's the way to stretch a kid's brain!

        [Buy my "Home Brain Stretcher", built entirely from Legos and available for only $199.95!]

  • ISO Standard (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ryanguill (988659) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:09PM (#25735127) Journal
    I think they ought to take the ruling in stride and just open source the bricks. Make them an ISO standard, but continue to provide quality over quantity. Then let the Canadian company do the cheap bricks so that we can build whatever we want out of bulk. Wish they would do this with the mindstorm stuff too!
    • Re:ISO Standard (Score:5, Informative)

      by amorsen (7485) <benny+slashdot@amorsen.dk> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:19PM (#25735289)

      It's actually damn hard to make the bricks. Lego found this out when they outsourced production a few years ago. It turned out to be a bad deal both for Flextronics and Lego, so now the factories are all back under direct Lego management.

      • Re:ISO Standard (Score:5, Interesting)

        by WillDraven (760005) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:52PM (#25735753) Homepage

        I used to do QA for Flextronics, so it's no surprise to me that it didn't end well. The majority of their workforce gets brought in from headhunter temp services like Manpower, told they'll be offered a permanent position when their temp contract runs out, and then let go right beforehand. The result is a never ending stream of untrained employees trying to adapt to a new position. The line i was testing (pill dispenser machines for walgreens pharmacies) had so many problems it was a miracle we shipped any machines at all.

        On a slightly related note, those pill machines seemed rather unsafe to me. They had a robotic arm such the pills out of a hopper through a plastic tube and shoot them into a waiting pill bottle. While it sounds like a nice idea in principle, the longer i worked there the more i thought about how real pills wouldnt be as resistant to breaking up or just rubbing in the tube and leaving drug residue all on the insides as the plastic fake pills we tested with. The risk for harmful interactions from contamination made me resolve to never get my prescriptions filled at walgreens anymore.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by brianosaurus (48471)

      That will probably happen in a few years. First, the TBAA (Toy Brick Association of America) will have to bribe the government to pass new trademark laws protecting the sanctity of Lego Bricks. Next they can build clout by suing any children found interlocking Lego bricks with other brands, mostly in John Doe cases, with mass subpoenas sent to preschools and day care centers in effort to discover the identities of potential offenders.

      After that action *totally* works, the TBAA can then get the US Congress

  • OLS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ambiguous Coward (205751) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:10PM (#25735147) Homepage

    So, what Lego needs to do now is publish the OLS, or Open Lego Standard. Seriously, when it becomes obvious you're going to lose the battle, maybe it's time to embrace the alternative? Instead of fighting to keep your ideas out of the hands of others, fight to make sure that *everyone* uses your idea. It makes your assets valuable in a different way. This way, they'll still have control over the standard, and if products meet the standard, they get branded with "OLS Compliant!" and consumers know that if they buy "OLS Compliant!" parts, they'll work with their other "OLS Compliant!" parts, which makes consumers very happy, which makes the standard valuable.

    -G

    • Re:OLS (Score:4, Funny)

      by philspear (1142299) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:41PM (#25735607)

      This way, they'll still have control over the standard, and if products meet the standard, they get branded with "OLS Compliant!" and consumers know that if they buy "OLS Compliant!" parts, they'll work with their other "OLS Compliant!" parts, which makes consumers very happy, which makes the standard valuable.

      Times have really changed. Back when I was buying legos, I was only concerned with whether or not I'd have enough to build a spaceship. Kids these days with their obsession with open source... They should just stick with microsoft legos.

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:17PM (#25735253) Journal

    I have mixed feelings about this. I have 38 years' worth and hundreds of thousands of LEGO bricks, which cost an enormous amount, and it'd sure be nice to get vats of cheap bricks so I can build some of the things I want. (I'm halfway through making a 3-D printer using chocolate, that has a working space of about 9 cubic feet, and boy does that take a lot of blocks.)

    But at the same time, companies will rush into the space formed by LEGO losing their trademark, build cheap bricks, outcompete LEGO, LEGO will go out of business, and then we'll be stuck with lots of cheap imitators who aren't making the beautiful stuff LEGO created, and that could end up destroying exactly what makes LEGO worthwhile.

    There is a value to having a single entity driving a market -- a planned economy in miniature.

    • by zappepcs (820751) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:29PM (#25735447) Journal

      Perhaps, but that economy was built on the quality and diversity of product, not simple market forces. It's kind of like Walmart. They have all the stuff that people normally buy, or most of it, and at cheap prices. When you want something that people don't normally buy, you have to shop somewhere else. So, yes, that drives the price up, but also creates special products.

      I have concerns about imitators diluting the value of the market that Lego has built, to the point that it is no longer viable to create the special parts that Lego does create. I'm not talking about flag poles for ships or castles. Rather I'm talking more of the technic line of parts. If you want active models or robots etc. you need special parts, not just blocks. For example: to build a car Lego provides many wheels/tires/tank treads, Ackerman steerage, differential gearing, shock absorbers etc. The Lego gear-motors are awesome. Lego provides gears, axles, chains, even flex-shafts, worm-gears and housings, pneumatics, .... In fact, blocks are good, but to make really awesome geeky stuff you need all those special parts. I hope this does not mean an end to the specialty parts.

      It would truly be the end of an era if those specialty parts go out of production.

  • by topham (32406) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:17PM (#25735263) Homepage

    Lego tried an end-run around the law.

    Copyright couldn't cover their bricks.
    Patents ran out eons ago.
    But Trademarks, Trademarks are perpetual... so they 'Trademark' a physical object instead of a name & logo. anybody wonder why they lost?

  • I thought (Score:5, Informative)

    by Thelasko (1196535) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:19PM (#25735277) Journal

    If true, hopefully this will open doors for people interested in inexpensive bulk purchase of bricks of specific sizes and colors.

    I thought you could already do that. [lego.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by White Flame (1074973)

      Better prices and selection through bricklink [bricklink.com]. It's not just used parts, there are tons of brand new pieces there too (I presume bought in bulk from Lego stores).

  • This isn't ALL good (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cbreaker (561297) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:19PM (#25735279) Journal
    I was a lego boy when I grew up. I had a lot of legos.

    I also had some imitation blocked made by Tyco. These immitation blocks never fit together well. You'd build something and it would fall apart. Although the bricks looked almost identical, the Tyco bricks just sucked.

    So, I do worry about imitation blocks. Lego blocks are the best because they have impossibly high standards during manufacturing in order to avoid the frustration I experienced with the Tyco blocks.

    If someone else is going to start really making sets to compete with Lego, let's hope they go the distance and implement quality control like Lego does.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:23PM (#25735355)
    The plastic building block we associated with "LEGO" was actually invented and sold in the late 1940's by an English toy designer named Hilary Page under the "KIDDIECRAFT" brand. He failed to patent it outside the UK and LEGO started manufacturing them without acknowledging their origin.

    After Hilary Page commited suicide, LEGO purchased the expired patents from Page's estate so they could pretend they invented them in the first place.

    LEGO did invent and patent the little tube on the bottom of the brick, which wasn't in Page's original design, which allows for more connection possibilities. Once that patent expired, other companies, such as Canada's MEGA, (creator of Mega Bloks) created clones. LEGO, of course, sued for trademark infringement. In the US, they lost, because you can't trademark and patent the same things - functional elements, which are covered by patents, can't be trademarked. Other countries treat this issue differently, hence LEGO enjoys some trademark protection even for the purely functional elements.

    Apparently, LEGO's view is that a patent should be valid as long as the company holding the patent continues to manufacture the product, and tends to be pretty aggressive about it. The irony they they effectively violated the patents of the original inventor is completely lost on them.

    Posting anonymously because I've had previous run-ins with LEGO's lawyers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      because you can't trademark and patent the same things - functional elements, which are covered by patents, can't be trademarked

      Functional elements cannot be trademarked: true

      Non-functional elements cannot be patented: false.

      There are design patents that cover non-trademarked, non-functional parts of devices. I think that's what razor companies use to lock me into their replacement blades.

    • by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @01:23PM (#25736259)
      Your timeline is incorrect, based on most of the sources I can find. Lego-to-be obtained samples of Page's blocks back around '47, and although Page hadn't bothered to patent them outside the UK and France (where he had businesses), Lego-to-be obtained the rights to produce the blocks from Kiddicraft anyway, in '49. The started selling their own that year. Both sets of bricks were abysmal failures by any reasonable measure. Page didn't commit suicide until '57, and Lego didn't introduce the central "tube" until '58. Lego acquired all of Kiddicraft's remaining plastic block patents in ninteen eighty one, almost twenty-five years after Page's suicide, as an aid to their impending litigation.
    • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @01:59PM (#25736849) Journal

      There were other, similar blocks well before Hilary Page invented Kiddicraft. I have a box of 2000 pressed wooden blocks called "American Bricks" from 1938, that are similar in size and identical in layout (ratio of height, width, and length, with 2x4 blocks, with 8 studs on top and matching holes on the bottom.) I've read previously that they went back into the late 1920's, and there were others like them beforehand.

      It wasn't the idea of stackable, interlocking bricks like Page's and others, that made LEGO successful. It was learning how to do precision plastic injection molding that allowed the bricks to stick together very tightly, and precision chemistry that allowed them to last through thousands of attach/detach cycles, that made LEGO enormous. A friend of mine was a plant manager for an old Samsonite plant that licensed the manufacture of LEGO bricks from 1968-1972, and he said that the LEGO plastic injection molding equipment, used for making toys, was superior to the best American plastic injection molding equipment used for medical equipment at that time.

  • Translation (Score:5, Informative)

    by KasperMeerts (1305097) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:23PM (#25735359)
    Finally, I knew all this Dutch my parents learned me would pay off! This had better give me some free karma.

    Lego loses it's unique right to make Lego blocks

    Luxemburg - It'll be hard to swallow for the Danish manufacturer Lego now that the European Court of Justice has decided Wednesday that everyone can make a block that fits the original legoblock.

    Lego had gone to the European Court of Justice battling against the Canadian competitor Mega Brands, who has brought a block on the market that fits Lego's. The Court ruled today that the design of Lego is not protected by European trademark and that there can be no such thing as an unique right.

    The Lego block was invented in 1932 by Ole Kirk Christiansen in the Danish city Billund. The name LEGO is derived from the Danish words "LE GOdt" (play good). Later the word appeared the word could be interpreted in Latin as "I gather" (or 'I choose' or 'I read').

    LEGO is a Danish toy manufacturer that became famous because of the colored plastic blocks. The blocks are sold under the name "Lego"; that way they refer not only to the manufacturer, but it also became a generic brand. The manufacturer is the biggest toy manufacturer in Europe with a revenue of 7823 billion Danish Krone ( 1049 billion Euro or 1337 billion dollars ) in 2006. Meanwhile, LEGO has won the price "Toy of the Century" twice.

    The LEGO Group is the fifth biggest toy manufacturer in the world.
  • by amorsen (7485) <benny+slashdot@amorsen.dk> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @12:26PM (#25735401)

    Lego hasn't had a monopoly on the bricks for decades. (They have a monopoly on making bricks that actually work, but that's not for legal reasons, that's just because their competitors are incompetent.)

    Lego has used a red 2x4 Lego brick in advertisements, and they believed that this particular brick could be used as a trademarked "logo". The European Department of Justice decided that the brick picture is too generic to be trademarked. The decision will be appealed.

    So all it means is that competitors are allowed to put that particular brick in their advertisements and on their boxes. They already had the right to produce the brick.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by compro01 (777531)

      They have a monopoly on making bricks that actually work, but that's not for legal reasons, that's just because their competitors are incompetent.

      Actually, I'm pretty sure one of the main things is their trade-secret plastics formula(s) and molding techniques, which I doubt the others have, which allow for their really tight manufacturing tolerances.

      Even with the trademarks and patents out of the picture, I doubt the competition is going to be able to match quality, barring some industrial espionage.

  • Lego can't compete (Score:5, Informative)

    by a.ameri (665846) * on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @01:02PM (#25735947)

    The problem is, Lego might be a household name, indeed in some countries it is a generic name for building blocks, but it is still a family-owned business. It's CEO and Chairman is a cool-looking grandson of the founder, and it resides in a rural town in Denmark called Billund, with a population of about 27,000 where nearly 90% of its manufacturing still occurs. The town is almost entirely dependent on Lego.

    Lego is among the world's best employers (if not outright best). Equal opportunity in action. Employees, including the CEO, do not have reserved parking spots at the HQ's carpark, offices mostly resemble community areas rather than walled rooms, free food and drinks are all over the place, not to mention some of the best sporting and health facilities provided to employees. Blue collar workers receive the same treatment, for most things from gym membership to access to the health clinic, there is no difference between the executives and simple manufacturing employee. People don't wear name tags, they nearly always wear casual, unless they have a meeting with an outside party.

    Lego has Idea Labs where people just experiment with new toys. It employs scientist, from chemists to child psychologists just to carry out all sorts of experiments. It is such a fun place, you'd be forgiven if you thought you where in Wonderland. It has a museum full of toys that it invented but failed to manufacture, mostly due to safety concerns. I can understand why some of them might have been thought of as dangerous, but boy are they cool!

    Of course, with all the above, with the cost of employing and manufacturing in Europe, it can't compete with the cheapest-of-the-cheap Chinese factory which just mass produces plastic blocks. I understand that in this case, IP laws do not really cover its business, and anyone is legally able to copy them, but IMO it's rather sad to see that such companies can't really exist in this world, that consumers don't value the history and the culture of a company. They just look at a price tag and make their decision solely based on that.

    Everyone I met at Lego is aware of these issues. They have carried massive restructuring plans since 2005, but they know they can't compete against most rivals whose costs are simply lower; yet they really want to preserve the unique culture that has made Lego, Lego for the past generations. Short of outsourcing manufacturing to some place in China, closing its museum and laboratory and airport and with it the town and becoming just another plastic manufacturer, I can't think of a way for them to survive. As I said, it's rather sad.

  • by loafula (1080631) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @01:09PM (#25736057)
    From the perspective of a man who grew up with legos and duplos- The legos were waaaaaay easier to snort.

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