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60 Years of Lego Building Blocks and Danish Patent Law

The following is a guest post by Elin Hofverberg, who covers Scandinavian jurisdictions at the Law Library of Congress. Elin’s previous posts include Finland: 100 Years of Independence – Global Legal Collection HighlightsAlfred Nobel’s Will: A Legal Document that Might Have Changed the World and a Man’s LegacySwedish Detention Order Regarding Julian AssangeThe Masquerade King and the Regulation of Dancing in SwedenThe Trade Embargo Behind the Swedish Jokkmokk Sami Market, and 250 Years of Press Freedom in Sweden.

Sixty years ago, on January 28, 1958, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen filed an application for a patent in Denmark for a toy building block, the Lego. Thanks to the patent, Lego Group—the Lego block manufacturer—became one of the largest toy manufacturers in the world.

A German commercial, purportedly from 1958, demonstrates how you can use Lego blocks to build a miniature toy house for just 1.75 Deutsche Mark. Fast-forward 60 years, and in 2017 you could have won an overnight stay at a life-size Lego house. Of course, Lego blocks are not only used to build houses. Legoland in Denmark—the showcase family adventure land built in 1968—will celebrate its 50th anniversary on June 7, 2018.

But back to where it all started – the patent.

The Danish Patent Act in Force in January 1958

The Patent Act No. 192 of 1936, an amendment to the patent law of 1894, was in force in January 1958, and is part of our Danish law collection here at the Law Library of Congress.

Patent Act No. 192 of 1936. Photo by Elin Hofverberg.

This is the Patent Act that was used to determine whether or not Mr. Christiansen was entitled to a patent. It provides that patents are issued for inventions that can be used in industry, or if the product can be used for industrial production (§ 1). The application was tied to a fee – 25 Danish Krone (DKK ) for the first year (§ 7).

Books that include the Danish Patent Act. Photo by Elin Hofverberg.

In fact, the Patent Act can be found in four different places in the Law Library’s holdings:

  • Lovtidendethe Danish Gazette, contains the original text of all Patent Acts, including the original 1894 patent law and all subsequent amendments – look for the text in the volume for the year of the amendment.
  • Juristens lovsamling is a less comprehensive collection of laws, but includes the most important laws for a Danish lawyer to know, published by the Danish juristforbund (lawyers association).
  • Danmarks Love is a title that includes all the laws in force in a given year (published between the years of 1927 and 1950).
  • Karnovs lovsamling is a compilation of laws in force in the year of publication and includes commentary for a number of laws.

Needless to say, the Law Library’s collections are a treasure trove for legal researchers. There is almost always a way to find even the most obscure law. I personally enjoy law books that contain the laws in force in a given year, because they function as legal time machines, offering a glimpse at what the legal landscape was like at a particular point in time.

Patent Law Developments in Denmark

Original Patent Act of 1894. Photo by Elin Hofverberg.

Since 1958, Danish patent law has undergone a number of amendments and changes. Today, the Danish Patent Act is based on the European Patent Convention, which was implemented in Denmark in 2006.

The current Danish patent law is available online, as well as in our collection in Karnov lovsamling.

The Danish Patent and Trademark Office has published an unofficial English translation of the law on its website.

Lego and the World of International Patents

When Lego filed its first building block patent in 1958, there was no consolidated process of applying for one international patent comparable to that of today’s European patent system. As a result, Lego accumulated domestic patents in numerous countries over the years, including a US patent (no. 3005282), awarded in 1961.

Over the years, however, the Lego patent expired in a number of countries, including the United StatesCanada, and Denmark. As a result, Lego representatives sought to find a different way to protect their product, arguing that the brick is protected by trademark law. However, various courts, including the European Court of Justice and the Canadian Supreme Court, did not agree. They found that Lego was trying to use trademark law to circumvent patent law.

Although the original Lego pieces themselves are no longer protected by patents, many other Lego patents are still valid.

If you are a Lego fan, the Library of Congress holds a number of titles that may interest you, including:

Section symbol and “play” letters made out of Lego building blocks. Photo and design by Elin Hofverberg.

Leg godt! Play Well!

One Comment

  1. Elizabeth
    January 30, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    What a fun post! I particularly like your description of certain law books as “legal time machines.”

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