Iconic puzzle game Rubik’s Cube lost a major trademark battle earlier today, when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) held that a trademark on the shape of Rubik’s Cube is invalid.
The court held that there was too much functionality in the shape of the puzzle game, “such as its rotating capability.”
The puzzle was invented in 1974 by Hungarian Ernő Rubik, who originally named it the Magic Cube. It was renamed Rubik’s Cube in 1980 and exported to the west. More than 350 million cubes have been sold since.
Rubik’s Cube received a three-dimensional trademark on its shape in 1999, but that was challenged in 2006, when German company Simba Toys took the case to court. Simba argued that the design, with its nine miniature moving cubes, should be protected with a patent rather than a trademark. It lost in lower court, but the company now has won big with the ECJ ruling.
Having lost to a competing toy company, it seems logical that the market will soon have lower-priced imitations available. However, the president of Rubik’s Brand in the UK told The Guardian that while they’re disappointed, they have other trademarks and copyright “to ensure [the] exclusivity” of the cube.
“[T]his judgment 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,” he added. “We are baffled that the court finds functionality or a technical solution implicit in the trademark.”
“In our opinion the Magic Cube involves a technical solution consisting of its rotating capacity,” Simba spokeswoman Isabel Weishar told the Financial Times. “Therefore, it may be protected only by a patent and not as a trademark. Now, 10 years after starting this lawsuit, the court decided in our favor.”
3D trademarks are allowed under European law, but they don’t always hold up when challenged. Most famously, Nestle failed to get a 3D trademark on the shape of its Kit Kat bars in the UK after a court decision last year.