Rubik’s Cubic Conundrum
Rubik’s Cube is the world’s largest selling toy of all time. Prof Erno Rubik as Professor of Architecture wished to give a task for his students and invented the cube in 1974. He began with a contraption made of wood and strapped together with rubber bands. Since the invention, consumers have bought 400+ million pieces.
Can the Cube give shape to a Trademark?
Seven Towns, the firm that manages the Rubik’s Cube and associated brands has now lost a trademark case in the European Court of Justice(ECJ). Seven Towns has been fighting to protect its trademark that it filed with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in April 1999 . Simba Toys from Germany has been fighting against the trademark awarded merely on the basis of the shape.
The ECJ has now decreed that the Rubik’s Cube ought to have been patented on the basis of its rotational capability and not trademarked based on the ‘Cuboid’ shape. The issue with patents are that they are short-lived. Inventors are typically allowed a certain period of years (through patent laws) to leverage their invention commercially, before me-too products are allowed to jump onto the bandwagon. Marketers on the other hand are allowed trademark protection to promote their ‘brands’ forever without much threat of infringement by duplicate or look alike competition. This ruling by the ECJ could trigger an avalanche of me-too products, risking the busines plans and profits of existing franchises.
Cool Chilli’s Views
At NewsTikka.com, we are not sure how to view a matter of this nature. On one hand we believe that inventors should be provided all incentives possible to keep them motivated…… and keep innovating. Cool Chilli also believes sometimes on humanitarian grounds, calls could be taken for the greater global good. For instance, letting Pharmaceutical companies to produce and sell drugs at very affordable rates though the patent holder (selling the drug at high rates) may object.
Letting competitors take away a key element of a toy is another one altogether. We agree with the ECJ that the Rubik’s Cube is not just about the shape but also about its functionality. Sympathizers of Seven Towns and Erno Rubik may not wish other players to leverage their product’s success. An invention they obviously had no association with. Whether in ideation/conception, or proto-typing or initial manufacture, when the risks associated with the product are the maximum.
The Rubik’s Cube is a good toy. But not a life-saving drug. Hence Seven Towns may think, there exist no logical humanitarian grounds, to lower the entry barriers for ‘counterfieting marketers’ and making the product cheaply available. Seven Towns and Rubik must surely be puzzled. Like Nature, Justice could be red in tooth and claw or rather trademark and cube.
Toying with any trademark may now be easier for ‘me-too’ guys. In attempting to solve this trademark puzzle of Cubic proportions, the ECJ may have opened a Pandora’s Box.