LEGO Research Paper: Part 1

Hey guys!

Since the school year is over, I am able to write more posts and prepare content for the next year. As the school year was coming to a close, I was told to write a research paper on whatever I desired. Since I am such a LEGO freak, I decided to write it on the little plastic bricks I am so fond of. I also needed blog content, so I could knock out two birds with one stone. The paper covers legal stuff and LEGO clones. LEGO purists beware, there are lots of mentions of knock-off products. (It's kinda the whole theme of the essay.)

Please do not copy my work and use it as your own research paper. I have heard some students do that, and I have split up the essay into several posts and removed all in-text citations to help dissuade copiers. Write your own essays, it will benefit you more than you know.

Anyways, I hope you all enjoy.

Note that all sources will be listed on the final post.

  The Lord of the (LEGO) Bricks

LEGO is the largest toy company in the world. They have been recently named as the most recognized brand on the planet, and their bricks become more valuable than gold. Since LEGO has become a powerful company, it would be obvious that some would attempt to emulate LEGO’s success. LEGO, like any business, would attempt to protect their empire in the toy business.  The LEGO Group does so by filing lawsuits against those it thinks violate its copyrights, trademarks or patents.  The notion that LEGO may sue a company for imitating its bricks brings up the question for many manufacturers, “What will make our toys legal in the market?” A brick building toy that is legal only has to make sure it does not directly copy products from LEGO. If they follow that rule, they will be safe from lawsuits filed by The LEGO Group. This issue has arisen since LEGO has globalized their product development and China’s manufacturing capabilities have improved. Globalization has led LEGO to be more active in protecting its intellectual property.

The History of LEGO

            The LEGO Group began as a small Danish company manufacturing wooden toys, such as yo-yos, pull animals and trucks. It was given the name LEGO by Ole Kirk Christiansen in 1934. The name LEGO was a combination of two Danish terms meaning “play well”, leg godt. LEGO began manufacturing plastic toys in 1947. They were one of the first companies in Denmark to purchase injection molding machines. The purchase of the machines was a risky move for the small company, because it cost them 1/15 of their annual income. The transition to creating plastic toys was a lengthy and involved process. LEGO needed a company to provide the plastic and a company to reproduce the molds they created for their toys. The purchase of the injection molding machine would eventually pay off, and LEGO would begin to manufacture plastic toys in conjunction with their existing wooden toys. The company would later turn to plastic as the main component of their products. LEGO did not start producing brick built toys until 1949. At that time, they were known as the "Automatic Binding Brick." The bricks were not originally created by the LEGO Group; the idea was taken from a British inventor by the name of Hilary Fisher Page. Due to the flaws in the original design, the bricks were not sturdy and were poorly received. Many stores returned the sets that they had purchased. One toy magazine said, "Plastics will never take the place of good, solid wooden toys." The initial poor reception of the plastic brick did not dissuade the owners of LEGO from producing their products.

            One reason for the poor reception of the LEGO interlocking bricks was that the bricks did not stick together at all and toppled when nudged or poked. LEGO developed a solution for the lack of structure and implemented the “stud and tubes” design that is commonly known today. The redesign of the brick consisted of three tubes on the inside that connected to the eight “studs” on top of the brick. The tubes on the inside of the brick create “clutch power” to hold bricks together. This brick design is still found in most LEGO products being sold today. The design for the new brick was patented on January 28th, 1958. The patent has since expired which has allowed for other companies to try their hand at making their own brick based products.

            The founder, Ole Kirk Christiansen, valued producing the highest quality toys for children. He passed his ideals down to his children, who would later inherit the company.  The family’s focus on quality and good play has lead them to create a set of rules known the "Principles of Play." These rules set the guidelines for all LEGO products. LEGO products have to be limited in size without limiting play, affordable, simple, and durable. The toys also have to be for all ages, never have to be renewed and must be easy to distribute. This code of play has led LEGO to adhere to producing the highest quality toys. Only 18 in every million bricks are found unfit to be sold. The quality of LEGO products is what leads most buyers to purchase their sets, since the name signifies that the product inside will be of good quality and will not fall apart. The high quality of LEGO products also includes a high price tag. Parents shopping for LEGO often lament the high prices for the products. Other companies noticed the complaints of consumers and attempted their own cheaper renditions of the iconic LEGO brick. This is not to say all knock-off products are cheaper, since many sell their products at a similar price per part ratio.

            The reproductions of the LEGO brick are only cheaper because of certain factors.  Competitors are not bound by the “Principles of Play,” so they can cut corners in production, such as lowering packaging size or reducing instruction size. These methods can cut the prices, but not significantly. Most manufacturers can cut one thing, quality. The defining nature of a LEGO product is taken away when some “clone” brands make cheap copies. The products are made of lower grade plastics, and that can lead to parts breaking in the box or during play. The molding quality can be reduced, and this will cause more defective parts to be created. The accuracy of the printing can be diminished, and that will create horrifying results, such as misprinted faces. The drop in quality is not present in all brick building sets, but is quite commonly found in unlicensed reproductions. Quality generally depends on the companies that are manufacturing the product and who is the parent company of the brand.

A number of companies produce LEGO-like products, such as Mega Construx, Best-Lock and Kre-o. Similar to LEGO, these companies create their own original sets or license the intellectual property of others to create themed collections based on video games, TV shows or movies. Other companies are not so wary of copyright infringement. Producers such as Decool, Lepin and Sheng Yuan create direct copies of products that LEGO has licensed or developed. They reproduce figures and designs made by LEGO and sell them for less than the cost of the original LEGO products. These brands do not limit their unlicensed reproduction to brick-building. They manufacture a variety of toys based on movies, video games and television shows, all without the creators; permissions. The question remains, “which companies are breaking laws and which companies are producing legal toys?” The legality all resides in copyright, patent and trademark laws, which are what protects creative products, technical solutions and brand identity.