While I enjoy puzzles as much as the next guy, I was never very good at solving the unique puzzle of the Rubik’s Cube. With its six brightly colored sides and deceptively simple design, anyone who ahs ever picked up one of these frustrating monstrosities has realized the demented brilliance of the inventor in creating something so easily solved by some and never understood by others (myself included). On my bets days, I’ve been able to complete a few sides only to be baffled by why the other sides didn’t fall into conformity. How can a player complete the yellow side while leaving all the others a jumbled mess?
Admittedly, it’s beyond my ken.
However, there recently was a new wrinkle in the legend of the Rubik’s Cube as it trademark protection was called into question. Earlier this month, the European Court of Justice decided whether or not to uphold the three-dimensional trademark regarding the well-known Rubik’s Cube. Writing for Mackrell Turner Garrett, Maung Aye explains what happened in a post captioned “Rubik’s Cube’s shape will no longer be protected by registered trademark.”
The Rubik’s Cube was invented by the Hungarian Erno Rubik in 1974. It has been very popular throughout the years all over the world. According to the Rubik’s Cube’s website since the international launch in 1980 about 400 million cubes have been sold worldwide.
The challenging lawsuit was brought forward by the German company Simba Toys who claimed that the right way to protect the Rubik’s Cube features was a patent rather than a trademark. A trademark grants the owner exclusive rights to registered designs, while patents only protect inventions for a certain period of time.
The trademark registered to protect the Rubik’s Cube referred to its shape. Simba Toys pointed out that not the shape but the mechanism was crucial to the Rubik’s Cube, which leads to the conclusion of a patent being the more suitable way of protection. Simba already challenged the trademark in 2006 but the European Intellectual Property Office as well as the General Court dismissed the lawsuit. Only now, 10 years after initially filing the claim, the European Court of Justice, located in Luxembourg, agreed with Simba Toys’ reasoning and ruled that the Rubik’s Cube’s shape is not eligible for trademark protection but should rather be protected by patent.
The ECJ judges ruled: “In examining whether registration ought to be refused on the ground that shape involved a technical solution, EUIPO and the General Court should also have taken into account non-visible functional elements represented by that shape, such as its rotating capability.” The outcome of the judgement thereby made it impossible to use a registered trademark for a technical functionality as a way of granting a monopoly for that specific product in favour of the trademark’s owner. This has already been a principle in IP law but was strongly underlined by the European Court of Justice’s decision.
For the rest of the story, check out Trademarks can be puzzling