Like many other things big in the 80s, the Rubik’s Cube has a cult following around the world. A simple toy consisting of six faces each covered by nine stickers has sold more than 400 million units since its invention in 1974… I still can’t get all the colours to match up, and I’ve been told that it’s “cheating” to take it apart and put it back together in order.
Given its iconic status and massive sales it’s no surprise that the current owners of the Rubik’s Cube take intellectual property protection seriously and this probably explains why they have been fighting a long running trade mark dispute with a German competitor called Simba Toys.
Back in the heady days of the 90s Seven Towns (which was later acquired by the current owner, Rubik’s Brand) filed an EU application for a 3D trade mark depicting a black and white Rubik’s Cube – Brexit hadn’t been invented then so I doubt they thought about filing a simultaneous UK trade mark (although you should). All was well until 2006 when Simba Toys applied for a declaration of invalidity.
Since then the parties have been locked in a complicated legal battle, although probably one that’s easier to solve than a Rubik’s Cube. In fact, in the latest decision, the General Court did find an answer, saying that the trade mark was invalid by virtue of the fact that the essential characteristics of the shape depicted in the trade mark were necessary to obtain the technical result consisting of the rotating capability of the product (in other words, it wasn’t a trade mark or signifier of origin and it was instead a technical depiction of an inventive product – something that would be more suitable as a patent). Puzzled? I’m not surprised, but the upshot is an invalid trade mark and a victorious competitor.
Fortunately for Rubik’s Cube they have a number of other 2D and 3D trade marks to fall back on but this judgment is a useful reminder to brand owners and product designers that a great deal of care needs to be taken when preparing a trade mark application and deciding on exactly what to register. Fortunately, Briffa is on hand to solve all of your trade mark needs, just email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7288 6003 to arrange a meeting.
Written by Will Miles, Solicitor