Danish toymaker Lego has won a landmark copyright case in China against two domestic companies that manufactured and sold toys nearly identical to Lego’s “Lego Friends” line.
Lego’s first China copyright success
This recent case in China Shantou Intermediate People’s Court represents the first time that Lego has succeeded in a copyright infringement case in China, where copies of the company’s colorful bricks and figures have been widespread for many years. The two defendants have been manufacturing and selling products in China under the brand “Bela” (博乐), many of which are similar or identical to Lego’s products.
The case focused specifically on the defendants’ packaging and logos, which the court ruled were copies of Lego’s and therefore constituted copyright infringement. Additionally, the court ruled that the defendants’ copying of the distinctive and unique appearance of certain decorative aspects of Lego’s packaging across particular product lines (Lego Friends) violated the Law Against Unfair Competition. The court ruling was issued in September, but did not take effect until November when the appeal window ended.
Well-known trademark status
In July, the Beijing Higher Court ruled in a separate case that the Lego logo and Chinese name (乐高 [lè gāo]) had become “well-known” trademarks in China. The “Lego” name is derived from the Danish “leg godt”, meaning “play well”.
Achieving well-known trademark status in China gave Lego significant advantages in enforcing infringement of its trademarks, particularly with respect to goods and services for which Lego had not domestically registered these trademarks (e.g., outside the toy category).
Moreover, while owning a well-known trademark in China does directly not play a role in copyright infringement cases, many feel that owning a well-known trademark provides a company stronger legal footing when pursuing copyright and unfair competition cases.
Trend towards stronger IP protection
The Shantou and Beijing courts’ recent rulings in favor of Lego are “a strong indication of the continued focus on proper intellectual property protection and enforcement by the Chinese courts,” said Lego’s Head of Legal Affairs Peter Thorslund Kjaer.