Danish toy giant LEGO has won its landmark copyright case against copycat products in China. It’s the first competition case Lego has won against Chinese companies that have been making products that are almost the same as its iconic toy bricks.

Almost identical

The intellectual property (IP) case in China was against two separate companies that made and sold toys almost identical to the LEGO Friends range. Branded Bela, the Chinese toys were clearly copied, according to the toymaker.

Winning this copyright case is particularly significant as LEGO has been struggling with copied products in China for years. Rip off products of its colourful and well-known figures and bricks have been a recurrent problem, as it fights to gain its rightful share in the $31 billion toys and games market.

‘Well-known’ trade mark

Earlier in 2017, the Higher Court in Beijing helped LEGO cement its position in China by recognising its logo and name in Chinese as ‘well-known’ trade marks. This made it easier for LEGO to act decisively against any infringement of its trade marks.

LEGO’s statement regarding its landmark case win explained that the China Shantou Intermediate People’s Court had ruled that “certain Bela products infringed upon the copyrights of the Lego Group and that manufacturing and selling of those products constituted acts of unfair competition.”

‘Anti-unfair competition law’

The court further decided that LEGO is no protected under the Chinese ‘anti-unfair competition law’, specifically referring to “the distinctive and unique appearance of certain decorative aspects of its packaging across particular product lines (in this case, LEGO Friends)”

LEGO considers the Chinese toy market key to reviving growth. After a 10 year sales boom, there have been disappointingly low revenues for the company in its core European and US markets. This makes capturing the imagination of the children in China vital for future growth.

Stiff competition in China

LEGO, whose name famously comes from the Danish ‘leg godt’, which means ‘play well’ has major competition for the Chinese toy market. These include competing with Mattel Inc (maker of Barbie) and Hasbro (manufacturer of My Little Pony).

Peter Thorslund Kjaer, VP of legal affairs for LEGO, said: “We think this is very important for the continued development of a favourable business environment for all companies operating in the Chinese market,” Lego’s vice president of legal affairs.”

He went on to say that the ruling was “a strong indication of the continued focus on proper intellectual property protection and enforcement by the Chinese courts”.

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