Rubik Cube loses fight over shape trademark
Possibly one of the most difficult puzzles, but also the bestselling toy of all time, the Rubik Cube has lost its fight to trademark its shape.
Erno Rubik invented the Rubik’s Cube, previously named the Magic Cube on invention, in 1974. Since then, over 350 million cubes have been sold worldwide.
In 1999, UK company Seven Towns registered the Rubik’s Cube shape as a three-dimensional trademark with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). This was challenged by German toy maker Simba Toys (Simba), in 2006. Simba took its case to the then European Court of Justice (ECJ) following dismissals from both the EUIPO and an EU court.
The ECJ agreed with Simba’s case, being that the Rubik Cube should not be granted a trademark over the shape of its product, and as such be able to benefit from the enhanced protection a trademark receives. Despite not being able to trademark the Cube, the ECJ has held that its function – its ability to rotate – is capable of being protected by a patent. However, the issue with this is that patent eligibility depends on novelty (among other criteria) and the Rubik’s Cube has been on the market since the 1970s, potentially rendering any hope of patenting the mechanism obsolete.
Even if Seven Towns could secure a patent over the Cube’s mechanism, patents only grant protection for a certain amount of time and ensure competitors cannot make commercial use of the inventions, whereas a trademark can grant exclusive rights for as long as the owner uses it.
For consumers, it is unlikely that this decision will stop those buying the infamous Rubik’s cube for Christmas, nor will the brand disappear. However, this decision does mean that competitors are now free to create similar products.
This decision highlights how difficult it can be to obtain a trademark for a three dimensional product. Following this decision, and the recent EUIPO ruling against KitKat’s three-dimensional trade mark, it would be worthwhile for game and toy inventors to carefully review any three-dimensional trademarks they have to assess their viability.