LEGO Research Paper: Part 2

Here lies all the legal stuff behind the LEGO lawsuit history. In this part you all get to see the headache caused by all my research into legal proceedings and intellectual property law. (It wasn't actually that bad, it was quite fun.)

Patent, Copyright and Trademark

There are significant differences between copyrights, trademarks and patents. Copyright law exists to protect creative industries from destruction by limiting copying and punishing unlicensed reproduction. Copyright protects writing, art, movies and television, music and other works in that vein. It only applis to works that are artistic in nature, not something such as a technical solution. U.S copyrights last for a period of seventy years after the creator’s death before they become public domain. Copyright allows the creator, whether it is a person or a business, to sell copies of the work and control redistribution of the work by others. Therefore LEGO and other legitimate companies license the intellectual property of other companies, such as DC and Marvel’s super-hero universes.

A patent protects a solution to a technical problem or a specific process. This includes the design of tools and utilities. The protections given under a patent are similar to copyrights, in that the give the inventor control over the sales, licensing and distribution of an idea. This allows companies to recoup the investment made in creating the object. There are three existing types of patent − the utility patent, the design patent and the plant patent. The utility patent protects new machines or processes. The design patent protects manufacturing methods and article construction. The plant patent protects the development of genetically modified plants (GMO’s) or of plants that have been created through selective breeding. The modified plant counts as a patented item since it could be a solution to an issue, such as insects consuming crops. U.S. patents last for a period of fourteen to twenty years, as long as the company is protecting it. A company might cease production of the patented item, but it may still protect its patent through licensing agreements.

Trademark is a protection of the name, logo or other item that is related to a company and its image. None are allowed to copy a trademarked name or logo, since it belongs to another company. This set of laws allows companies to build a brand name and a reputation.Trademark can protect certain product designs as well, since they may be a major part of the company’s brand, such as the iconic Coca-Cola bottle.  Trademark also protects  trade secrets, such as the recipes for a certain type of soda. Trademarks last as long as the business that they pertain to is still operating and defending their trademark.

Copyright, trademark and patent laws all exist to keep companies producing their products and creating new ideas. When a company produces a product, they invest money and effort on developing it. Without these protections, another company can copy an idea and sell it for less, because they invest little in designing the product. The company that originally designed the product will not want to release new products, if the competition is going to cheat.  The law of demand states that consumers will purchase more of an item at lower prices, so why should a company try to produce a good if someone else will copy it, reproduce it, and benefit from more sales at a lower price? This is where copyrights and patents are key. They allow for a creator to have a temporary monopoly over their ideas for a specified period. The length varies from country to country, but it ensures the creator can recoup the money invested in the product without creating a permanent monopoly. The protection of the product made by the creator allows them to freely create and explore new products. They are able to make any improvements to their product as well as profit from it. When the copyright or patent expires, other companies are able to reproduce the product without having to fear legal repercussions.  When The LEGO Group’s “stud and tube” brick design patent expired, the door was opened for many companies to create their own version of the iconic plastic brick.