Santa brought me one of my favorite trademarked and patented products:  a LEGO® set!

Yes that is Mr. Firefighter dousing the flames on the LEGO® tree while holding a cup of coffee.  The hero of my LEGOland!

For a Lego geek like me, there was an intriguing story in the Wall Street Journal last week about how the company designs these unique sets.  A team of 160 engineers designs these products from a catalog of 2700 parts, which is pretty amazing considering both the intricacy of many of these sets and the complexity required to manufacture quality sets without missing parts. With all this creativity, one would hope that they’re taking steps to protect it.

I’ve talked before here about the arsenal of intellectual property protection – and Lego is one company that has used as many of these weapons as they can to define their property and protect it.  They have a history of seeking trademark protection, both in word marks (their first US filing dates back to 1961), design marks, and non-traditional marks (like recently registered product configuration mark, 85976365).  They also routinely utilize the patent system to protect novel and non-obvious parts, filing both design applications (like this recently issued patent) and utility applications.  Lego makes considerable effort to protect the building blocks of their brand in the U.S. and around the world as their company continues to grow, both their mark and literally some of the building blocks in their sets.  You will not see, however, patent claims for the overall finished set.  This is likely because Lego is not selling and their competitors are not manufacturing complete sets; they’re selling kits.  The only infringing party of a claim to the finished set would be little Lego geeks like me who spend Christmas morning putting together a set.   Even if your product is as basic as a building block, there are still ways to protect your competitive advantage in the market place.