LEGO, those little plastic building block sets that everyone either has or knows someone who has a set, won a court case against four Chinese companies that were behind LEPIN knockoff sets.
The case actually took place in China, a region of the world known for the black market and illegal knockoff products of everything under the sun. The Guangzhou Yuexiu District Court ruled that the companies “infringed multiple copyrights of the LEGO Group and conducted acts of unfair competition by producing and distributing LEPIN building sets”, in LEGO’s own words.
The Chinese companies were ordered to immediately stop producing, selling, or anything else that infringed on LEGO’s copyright. Besides the Cease and Desist order, Leg won 4.5 million Chinese Yuan or about a little under 650,000 American dollars. So while winning the case was not much of a monetary win for LEGO, they knocked out a major Chinese bootlegger who was copying their product. In this case, it was probably worth more than the money.
The four companies were accused of producing and distributing LEPIN building sets. These sets are close copies of not only LEGO original sets but also sets that are merchandise of other properties like Star Wars, Ghostbusters, the Simpsons, and even LEGO’s own cartoon Ninjago. The LEPIN logo itself is made to look very similar to the LEGO logo in its design, font, and colors.
Besides China, LEPIN sets are sold to other markets and are made available through online retailers. This court order was not directed against those sites outside of China and many of these sets are available and sold online.
Last year it was ruled by the Beijing Higher Court that the LEGO name and the logo was a “well known” trademark in the country. That ruling gave LEGO a lot of leverage in protecting its copyright and logo in battles against other companies that produce and sell lesser quality knockoffs in an effort to make money. This court ruling also makes steps for other companies to pursue legal action against other Chinese knockoff manufacturers.
China has a reputation for making illegal and black market copies of products, many of those are of lesser (sometimes MUCH lesser) quality. The little plastic bricks and the minifigs that go with the sets are popular all over the world and are not the hardest thing for a company to make their own versions of. However, as seen here, copyright law can be a tool used against makers of illegal items. This court victory is seen as an effort by China to clean up the reputation and bring an end of these illegal goods being sold.
The Danish toy is produced by The LEGO Group out of Denmark and plans to expand its foothold into China itself. There are plans to open “Flagship” stores in Beijing and Shanghai.
This is not the first time LEGO has gone to court to protect its copyright. The patent was first filed in the late 1950’s and many companies all over the world have tried to copy the design of the building bricks. in 2002 they sued Chinese toy company Tianjin COCO Toy Co., Ltd. over production of CoCo bricks that were similar to LEGO and were shut down. Mega Bloks Inc in Canada was sued in 2005 but the Supreme Court in Canada upheld Mega Blocks production. They were allowed to keep producing their toys and soon were second in the Construction Toy market. LEGO sued English toy makers Best-Lock twice in the 2000s over violation of copyright but an English court did not rule in LEGOs favor. Oddly enough it has been accused the LEGO itself was a clone of Kiddicraft Self Locking Building Bricks that were developed during World War II. LEGO acquired Kiddicraft and all its products in 1981.