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Nanoblock is an interlocking brick toy similar to LEGO.

They have an article on their website that describes their toy and compares it to LEGO. It makes the following claim:

You may wonder if there is a patent infringement case against Nanoblocks for making a copycat product similar to LEGO. The answer is no.

To avoid a patent claim, Nanoblocks are not compatible with LEGO. Nanoblocks are about one-quarter of the size of LEGO blocks.

Is it true that Nanoblock is not in violation of LEGO's patents because their copycat product is incompatible with and is not the same size as LEGO's product?

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  • 4
    Do you mean the patents for the ideas they nicked from Kiddicraft?
    – mcalex
    Dec 1, 2022 at 6:10
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    To be fair, Lego did buy the rights to Kiddicraft.
    – Glen Yates
    Dec 1, 2022 at 18:32
  • Anyone can claim anything until it is challenged and ruled on in court.
    – spuck
    Dec 1, 2022 at 18:36

2 Answers 2

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There are two very different laws in play here. Patent rights and trademarks.

One cannot violate a patent on Lego bricks, because they have all run out a long time ago.

The Wikipedia article has a relevant section on this. Therefore it is very legal from a patent point of view to produce compatible bricks (and there are several companies that do).

More complicated is the trademark aspect. Lego tries to sue everyone that attempts to sell its bricks with the statement "lego compatible" or something similar, and the use of the name "Lego" as a name for the bricks in general is contested (sometimes successfully, sometimes less so), even though that is quite common in colloquial speech.

The Canadian supreme court ruled

"Trademark law should not be used to perpetuate monopoly rights enjoyed under now-expired patents"

Bottom line: You may produce lego-compatible bricks, but you must not name them like that. It's probably best you just don't use the name "Lego" at all.

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First of all, the link you've provided is not the official Nanoblock website, it is a fansite. Nanoblock is owned by the Japanese toy company Kawada, and the official website can be found here.

That means that this is not an official claim from Nanoblock. However, it is true that Nanoblock bricks do not infringe on any copyright, and not only because Nanoblock bricks are smaller than Lego.

The relevant patent for interlinking blocks that we all think of as Lego expired back in 1978. Since then, Lego has repeatedly taken companies to court for trademark violations, but in recent years this has largely failed. Judges have repeatedly ruled that the interlinking studs are a functional design, and not eligible for trademark protections.

The same is not true for Minifigures, which are still protected by an active trademark, as well as product lines like Ninjago.

Lego was successful in shutting down some copycat companies like the Lepin in China after years of legal battles, but that was for blatantly copying Lego IP, from builds to box art.

Nowadays there are plenty of reputable alternative brick brands creating original sets that do not infringe on any copyright or trademark protections, even if they are the same size as Lego bricks.

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  • Nanoblocks suffers the same fate. Lots of people think "nanoblocks is the name for bricks very similar to Lego but half the size", and not a brand name. And call everything that is half the size of Lego bricks "nano blocks".
    – gnasher729
    Oct 12, 2023 at 11:19
  • Out of curiosity, couldn't Lego just keep renewing the patent?
    – Greendrake
    Oct 12, 2023 at 11:42
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    @Greendrake Patents are not infinitly renewable - once they are run out, they are done, finito. There's only very narrow grounds to renew a patent - and that is usually reserved for pharmaceutica that spent a lot of time in clinical trials.
    – Trish
    Oct 12, 2023 at 12:17
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    @phoog I don't think copyright is relevant here at all. Certainly a structure built of toy blocks may be copyrightable, but the the design of the blocks themselves is functional and therefore not copyrightable. The logo of the company in question is probably not copyrightable either, since it's just text on a red square and lacks protectable elements. The company's name is certainly not copyrightable because it's not sufficiently creative to qualify as a literary work.
    – A. R.
    Oct 12, 2023 at 14:30
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    @gnasher729 The obviousness test is for patent law. Copyright law has the functionality test. If you want "a block that achieves A, B, and C," any element of the design that works towards those goals would be deemed functional and therefore non-copyrightable.
    – A. R.
    Oct 12, 2023 at 17:33

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