When a brand goes international, understanding and successfully negotiating localisation and translation challenges is a vital aspect affecting success. Founded nearly 90 years ago, Lego has given children – and adults – across the globe the freedom to let their imagination run wild. In this blog – and on International Lego day – we look at the challenges Lego has faced and overcome on its journey to becoming the top-rated toy brand in the world.

The power of a patent

The Lego story began in 1932. The name ‘Lego’ evolved as an abbreviation of the two Danish words ‘leg godt’ which means ‘play well’, very fitting for a brand with a mission statement to ‘inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow’.

The success of its brick-based building system has led to multiple attempts at duplication by rival brands. The original Lego patent only lasted 17 years, expiring in 1989, and competitors have been hot on the brands’ heels ever since. Mega Bloks are one of the most notable competitors, building a multimillion-pound company on the back of its Lego-inspired blocks.

The difference between a trademark and a patent

Patents are designed to protect technical inventions so when the Lego block was created, its invention was patented to prevent it from being copied. In contrast, a trademark protects the words, phrases, language and symbols used to distinguish a good or service from someone else’s. The Lego brand and mark are trademarked.

Put very simply, patents protect products, while trademarks protect your brand. The process of obtaining a patent differs from that for getting a trademark, and the protection offered is also very different. So, when in 2002, Lego’s patent request was dismissed as the product’s studded design was seen as functional and therefore ineligible for protection, the company opted instead for the security provided by a trademark.

In fact, Lego owns dozens of US trademark registrations – and many more worldwide – on the marks Lego, Legoland, and other variations on them. The artistic appearance of Lego blocks is also subject to copyright, and Lego is diligent in registering its copyrights.

The importance of language when protecting Intellectual Property

Part of the challenge in obtaining a patent is deciding on what language best describes the novelty of the invention. The language must be right before patent applications are filed as they are almost impossible to amend. Lego’s initial patent application read as follows:

  1. In a toy building set, a hollow building block of rectangular parallelopiped [sic, parallelepiped] shape comprising a bottom and four side walls, at least four cylindrical projections extending normally outwardly from said bottom and arranged in two rows of opposed projections to define a square, a tubular projection extending normally from the inner face of said bottom, and parallel to said side walls, the longitudinal axis of said tubular projection passing through the centre of said square, and the peripheries of said cylindrical projections contacting said tubular projection and at least one side wall when said peripheries are geometrically projected normally to said bottom, whereby the cylindrical projections on one of said blocks may be inserted into clamping engagement with a tubular projection and a wall of another of said blocks.

To date, Lego has developed 15,000 sets, 85 video games, 4 movies, 8 theme parks and 4 billion minifigures. A company with such a market presence as Lego needs top-class translation and localisation specialists to ensure it can communicate its message effectively and protect its intellectual property across different cultures, languages and backgrounds.

Albion Languages can support companies applying for Intellectual Property protection across multiple territories. We have experience in assisting clients who require in-depth assistance in correctly translating and localising materials for use across multiple applications. Our team can advise on special Intellectual Property requirements in each target territory and provide full support during the application process.

To discover how the localisation and translation experts at Albion Languages can help your brand protect its assets when operating on the global stage, get in touch with us today.