Rubik’s Cube Versus ‘Quick Cube’
It’s a case of old versus new, of an original versus a copycat. Rubik’s Brand Ltd, the London-based creator of the Rubik’s Cube has sued Duncan Toys Co. of Ohio, owned by Flambeau, Inc., and Toys “R” Us in an attempt to stop sales of a knockoff version of its long-sold cube. The original Rubik’s Cube was created in the 1970s by Hungarian professor Ernő Rubik and has been puzzling those brave enough to give it a shot for decades. More than 100 million Rubik’s cubes have sold worldwide. The Duncan version is called the ‘Quick Cube’.
According to the suit filed on last week in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, New York, Duncan’s Quick Cube “mimics the features and overall appearance” of the Rubik’s Cube only differing in a few of the colors and the “slight rounding” of the cube’s corners. Rubik’s claimed, “Consumers who expect to receive plaintiff’s Rubik’s Cube puzzle, for which plaintiff has developed a national and international reputation, will be disappointed when using defendants’ imitation.” This leads to “irreparable harm” to Rubik’s reputation.
Rubik’s Brand Ltd. is seeking a court-imposed injunction to force Duncan to stop copying its trademarked cube, as well as monetary damages up to three times the Quick Cube profits. The Quick Cube can be found in stores as well as on Amazon. The copycat sells for about one-third of the original’s sticker price.
Toys “R” Us said it was aware of the lawsuit and is working with Duncan to determine the next steps. Duncan said the allegations are without merit, and the company intends to vigorously defend itself. The creator of the copycat may have a leg to stand on given a decision that was handed down last year by the European Court of Justice.
Seven Towns, the U.K. company that manages Rubik’s Cube’s intellectual property rights, registered the cube as a trademark in the 1990s, but the German Simba Toys challenged the trademark protection in 2006. The ECJ judges ultimately ruled in 2016: “In examining whether registration ought to be refused on the ground that shape involved a technical solution, EUIPO and the General Court should also have taken into account non-visible functional elements represented by that shape, such as its rotating capability.” Therefore, the puzzle should be governed not by a trademark but by a patent.
Alex Brodie, a partner at Gowling WLG, said of the decision, “The Rubik brand still stands but it doesn’t have a monopoly on the shape of the cube puzzle under trademark law.” Therefore, “Others are now free to create such a puzzle – provided Rubik doesn’t have other IP rights – but they cannot call it Rubik and they cannot copy the get up of Rubik – this decision is solely about the shape of the product.”
Whether the Quick Cube consisted of enough differences to stand on its own will be up to the Manhattan court. In the meantime, consumers will continue to have access to both to see if one is more challenging than the other.