Patents and trade marks: the tale of the Rubik’s Cube.

A Hungarian architect and design lecturer named Erno Rubik created in 1974 a device to that was to amaze and engage the world. It consisted of a cube with each face made up of nine smaller cubes. An intricate internal mechanism allowed each external layer of the larger cube to be twisted to alter the positions of the smaller, individual ones. Rubik painted each face a different colour and started to twist. It took him a month to restore the cube to its original pattern.

Realising that he had created an engrossing puzzle, Rubik applied for a Hungarian patent which was granted in 1977. Later he teamed up with a Budapest entrepreneur called Tibor Laczi, who obtained permission from the state trading company Konsumex to market the toy beyond the Iron Curtain. They took the Cube to the Nuremberg Toy Fair, where it caught the attention of Tom Kramer of Seven Towns Limited in London, who promptly licensed the worldwide distribution rights. In September 1979, the American firm Ideal Toys signed a deal with Seven Towns to market the Cube in the West. However, there was a problem for Rubik. He could not register the cube for an international patent because he had failed to apply within one year of receiving his Hungarian patent.

Within months Rubik became the Eastern Bloc’s first self-made millionaire. But the IP situation was precarious. Ideal Toys was therefore forced to concentrate its protection efforts on the registered trademarks “Rubik” and “Rubik’s Cube”.

Although Rubik received a US patent for the Cube in 1983, it expired several years ago. Seven Towns has subsequently attempted to fight off competitors by invoking rights relating to the trade dress of the toy and associated products. It has since filed trademarks for “Rubik’s Magik” and “Rubik’s Mini Cube” and- be warned it protects them fiercely.

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