Has the toy company LEGO's patent expired?

For many years there were no copies of LEGO building blocks for kids. ToysRUS now sells copies of LEGO blocks of a brand called MEGA BLOKS.

Someone told me that LEGO’s patent must have expired and that means anyone can make copies of their blocks now. Is this true? If so, how long do patents last for?

Patents last for different lengths of time from place to place, but generally last for 20 years. I have a vague recollection that the TRIPS agreement under the WTO might have increased this under pressure from Germany and the pharmaceutical industry, but I’m not certain off the top of my head. If so, in order to be a part of the WTO, countries would have to legislate to increase the time restrictions on patent protection.

You can probably look for yourself to see if its expired in the US by doing a search here.

A company called Best-Lock is fighting in Germany with Lego over the intellectual property rights in the design, which suggests to me that its patent is still valid in Germany, unless it is now relying only on its copyright.

When Legos were patented, the term of a U.S. patent was only 17 years, but the clock started when the patent was issued. It’s 20 years now, but the clock starts once your application is filed. Regardless, the patent on Legos has long since expired.

However, Lego maintains a trademark on its product and will likely sue the bejeezus out of anyone attempting to market a product with any part of that name in it.

Lego could have copyrights on the artwork ork on the cover of their boxes.

I remember seeing something on the (UK) news about this a while back (sorry this is ia bit vague) - either something had expired or a precedent had been set which would allow other companies to produce plastic toy bricks similar to (and if they liked, compatible with) LEGO.

There used to be a brand of sweets (not unlike Tic-Tacs) called IPSO which was supplied in packs which had LEGO-compatible edges, but IIRC this was around a long time before I heard the news story.

Two things. First, Mega Blocks are not identical to legos( though they are compatable with them) so they might be able to avoid patent issues that way. Second, Mega Blocks have been around for at least 12 years, and probably much longer than that, so any issues would have been long resolved by now.

In my experience, LEGO is still the superior brand in terms of quality and design though, don’t you think?

For as long as I can remember, there have been Tycho Super-Blocks, which are compatible with LEGO blocks and have a basic brick of the same dimensions. The flat pieces are half the height of a brick, though, not a third like LEGO pieces. I’m not sure if that was a legal issue (to ensure that the pieces are “different”), or if Tycho just thought that was a better idea. There’ve since been a number of other compatible toys with radically different designs (Zaks come to mind)

You’ll also notice that (almost) all genuine LEGO pieces have the logo somewhere on them, usually on top of the bumps. If any other company started thus labelling their toys, I’m sure that they’d be in a world of legal hurt over it.

By the way, according to the folks at the LEGO company, “LEGO” should always be used as an adjective, not a noun, hence the pieces are “LEGO blocks” or somesuch, not “LEGOs”. After all the enjoyment I’ve gotten out of them, I try to respect their wishes.

Thanks for the information.

I had not seen the MEGA BLOKS until recently, and I’ve never seen the Tycho Super-Blocks.

What I didn’t mean was that MEGA BLOKS were completely identical to LEGO, but that their blocks were the same size and style therefore compatible to them. I would assume that the original patent was for the size and style so someone couldn’t make compatible blocks.

The Mega blocks I’ve handled at the store seem to differ mostly in that they’re made of a different (presumably cheaper) grade of plastic. They’re softer, and less glossy than genuine LEGOs.