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What makes Lego *click*?

Hello everyone,I hope that you are having a good week.There are some companies out there that just have “it”.There is something about them that is just iconic, and they stand out in all the right ways.One example of this, on the toy shelf at least, is Lego.As you are all aware, Lego is a Danish company that produces a whole host of toy products – all based on a fundamental brick design.I think everyone can remember playing with Lego at one time or another, but for some reason, over the course of time – they have become a “category of one”.Whilst you can buy other building toys, none of them are quite “Lego” – and if you’re buying for discerning children, they will certainly tell you the same!But what is it that makes Lego, click?Let’s take a quick deep dive to find out. 

It starts with a brilliant idea

 Let’s start with a bit of the history…So, the story of Lego begins in 1916 in Billund, Denmark when Ole Kirk Christiansen purchased a woodwork shop. During the Great Depression, the company began to create toys as a way of maximising their use of materials.Notably, in 1934, Christiansen held a competition with his staff to name the company – choosing Lego (from leg godt or “play well”) over Legio (implying “legion of toys”).The shift that really set Lego on its way was the purchase of a plastic injection moulding machine in 1947 and the reference point of Hillary Fisher Page’s Self-Locking Building Bricks (see below).Lego began to produce a similar set of products, albeit created using their injection moulding machine. Despite this, wooden and metal toys were originally more popular, and as a result, Lego struggled to begin with.Subsequent refinements followed – including 1) the defining masterstroke of conceiving of Lego as a so-called “Toy System” comprised of many different related products, and 2) further patented refinements to the fundamental mechanical characteristics of the “Lego brick”.

It continues with a brilliant idea

 Once the fundamentals of the brand and product were in place, the next step was to grow the business to the international footprint we’re all familiar with today.Despite this, the owner at the time in the 60s, Gottfried Christiansen did not have the capability to expand into the USA – so instead struck a deal with Samsonite to produce and sell Lego products in the United States and Canada.In 1968, the first Lego theme park was opened in Billund, featuring model miniature towns made from Lego – with the park expanding to eight times its original size in subsequent years.The year after, Lego released Duplo bricks – which were much larger in size and designed for younger children (albeit still compatible in many ways with pre-existing Lego as they were double the size in terms of their dimensions, hence the name!)I won’t go into the full history of the company, but some other noteworthy points in the growth and consolidation of the company include:
  • Establishment of an R+D wing in the company to keep manufacturing methods up to date
  • Introduction of the first “minifigs” in 1974.
  • Development of educational offerings and outreach to schools
  • Expert builder and “Technic” lines for older children and adults
  • The first “Lego Movie” in 2014 and a host of licensed video games during the 2010s led to the present day
  • Licensing arrangements with a range of popular franchises for building sets, including Star Wars, Harry Potter and more.
Notably, the latter two along with some realignment of Lego’s business and manufacturing helped Lego return from a bit of s slump in the early 90s – which is largely inconceivable considering their success in the present day.What’s more, as we have all grown up with Lego in one way or another, the love and nostalgia that we all have for the products are passed down through the generations. This has given Lego real sticking power as it appeals to children and adults alike.  

Protect the idea at all costs

 So, Lego, all in all, is a product and a brand which has stood the test of time.And it all stems from one brilliant idea – a single plastic brick.Crucially, as you might expect, a proactive and decisive approach to intellectual property, from the outset of the business to the present day has underpinned Lego’s success.Simply put, IP protection has prevented others from creating products that get too close to the company’s unique look and feel.From the telling of the history above, there have been several key moments when IP has come into play for Lego in significant commercial moments for the business.
  • Trade marks relating to the iconic name and logo
  • Patents and trade marks relating to interlocking brick designs and Minifigures
  • Licensing with Samsonite to expand Lego into North America in the early days
  • Complex licensing arrangements with other franchises to create the Lego Movie as well as popular sets including famous characters and franchises
What’s more, Lego has been assertive in protecting its IP, especially as the rise of internet commerce created the opportunity for opportunistic attempts to infringe on its products.Most notably was the LEGO Group’s enforcement against LEPIN who were producing sets of building block toys with a highly similar look and feel to LEGO products. (See below).
Crucially, Lego has the ability to enforce using a range of different IP rights to ensure those who siphon off their creations find themselves unable to erode what it is that makes Lego special in the eyes of the buying public.Simply allowing something like this to enter the market (or, indeed, not having the rights in place to effectively enforce it) would clearly be very damaging to Lego.A century’s worth of reputation is not something to hand over so easily!It is because of the company’s understanding of IP from the moment of inception that Lego still operates in a “category of one” today.That’s food for thought!  

Wrapping up

 I hope that you enjoyed this brief overview of Lego... I enjoyed writing it! If there are any other companies you would like me to take a look at, do let me know!They really are a fantastic example of a company that has been able to capture and protect a special idea and maintain and grow it over the course of a century.Personally, I think that the real masterstroke was understanding the potential for a “Toy System” where each individual product they sell could be part of something bigger.There aren’t a lot of other toy companies that have really grasped the genius of this and it is something that in its very nature keeps people coming back for more.I hope you have a brilliant week, and if you want to talk IP – do get in touch!Have a brilliant week, Liz
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