We all know the Rubik’s Cube; the multi-coloured, six-sided puzzle that has baffled millions of people around the world since its invention by Erno Rubik in 1974 under the name Magic Cube.
Through the years, the appeal of Rubik’s Cube has never wavered. However, its trademark protection may not be as secure as its popularity.
In April 1999, the Rubik’s Cube won a trademark on its distinctive shape through the British company Seven Towers – its intellectual property rights manager.
In 2006, German firm Simba Toys challenged this trademark. They alleged that the Rubik’s Cube should not be protected by a trademark but by a patent. This resulted in a decade-long trademark battle.
While Simba Toys lost at the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and at the General Court, they won the appeal at the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The ruling was based on the fact that when a shape is a fundamental factor in producing a “technical result”, i.e. it’s rotating cubes, it is not qualified for trademark protection.
The judges of the ECJ stated, “In examining whether registration ought to be refused on the grounds 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.”
This not only gives way to fear that the brand will have to compete with cheap, copycat imitations but that it will set a “damaging precedent.”
David Kremer, Rubik’s Brand UK President, told The Guardian, “We are disappointed by today’s decision by the ECJ. While the Rubik Brand is fortunate in having other trademarks, copyright, passing off and unfair competition protection to rely on which will continue to ensure its exclusivity, this judgement sets a damaging precedent for companies wishing to innovate and create strong brands and distinctive marks within the EU, and is not what European lawmakers intended when they legislated for 3D trademarks.
“We are baffled that the court finds functionality or a technical solution implicit in the trademark.”
Rubik’s Brand is unable to appeal the ECJ’s decision, as the ruling is final.