I received an email from an Israeli Patent Attorney last week with the rather inflammatory heading “is the Rasham [Israel Registrar of Patents and Trademarks MF] an idiot or was he bribed?”
Somewhat intrigued, as the patent attorney in question is one of the most intelligent people I know, I opened the email to see what was bothering him. The email contained a link to an article in the business newsletter “Calcalist” to the effect that a company called Seven Towns had received trademark protection for the Rubik’s Cube, and an Israel IP law firm was sending out Cease & Desist letters to various toy shops with requests for damages. The article in question is to be found here.
Rubik’s_Cube is a 3-D combination puzzle invented in 1974 by Hungarian sculptor andprofessor of architecture Ernő Rubik. Originally called the “Magic Cube”, the puzzle was licensed by Rubik to be sold by Ideal Toy Corp. in 1980 via German businessman Tibor Laczi and Seven Towns founder Tom Kremer, and won the German Game of the Yearspecial award for Best Puzzle that year. As of January 2009, 350 million cubes had been sold worldwide making it the world’s top-selling puzzle game. It is widely considered to be the world’s best-selling toy.
Reading the article, and reading between the lines, it appears that the patent attorney in question (i) believed that the Israel Registrar had granted a three dimensional trademark for Rubik’s Cube, and (ii) considered this ridiculous.
In an earlier article I discussed a recent decision by the patent office to grant a three dimensional trademark for the Crocs beach clog, and so could see how my colleague was envisioning a product that had not been patented or registered as a design back in when it was invented, could somehow, after decades of being considered in the public domain, become private property, enabling a trademark registrant to sue third parties. (The Interlego decision makes it clear that 3D Lego bricks are not protectable by copyright, so we can assume that Rubik’s Cube isn’t either).
However, before assuming that the Israel Trademark Office had got it wrong, I checked the database. There are actually two trademark entries owned by Seven Towns, both covering the same mark, but in different classes. The mark in question IL 228232 is reproduced below.
The mark covers three dimensional puzzles in class 28, but is not a three dimensional mark. It is a 2D visual representation of a cube. Of course, to be drawn on paper it has to be, but there are accepted ways of showing three dimensional designs on a flat piece of paper. One can show top, bottom, left, right, front and back elevations, with a perspective view. That is how design applications are filed. That was not done here. More importantly, there is no indication in the certificate that the trademark is for a three dimensional object.
We note however, that the mark issued under Section 16 on the basis of a foreign registration (European Community Trade Mark No. 162784), which arguably is for a three dimensional cube. That mark is under cancellation proceedings.
If the mark, whether 3 dimensional or flat, is used as an indication of origin, it may be what could be considered as trademark infringement.
According to the Calcalist the lawyers who are going after toy vendors include Adv. Noe Shalev Slyomovics, (pronounced Noach Shmulovits, and usually spelled that way in this blog, but I have copied his preferred Hungarian spelling from his business card).
Noe Shalev Slyomovics is the former Israel Deputy Commissioner of Patents & Trademarks. He returned to private practice after Adv. Assa Kling replaced Dr Meir Noam as Commissioner.
I sent Adv. Noe Slyomovics an email, and it transpires that he was able to convince the trademark office that making cubical shaped “Rubik’s Cubes” is arbitrary, since there are a number of other options that use the same mechanism and achieve the same result. Some examples of alternative “Rubik’s Cubes”, courtesy of Adv. Slyomovics are depicted below:
There are also a number of similar sliding puzzles that are not actually 3×3 cubes, but use different mechanisms.
Adv. Slyomovics considers Rubik’s 3×3 cube choice as arbitrary and equivalent to the others, and successfully argued that like the Toffiffee candy or the Ferrero Roche praline, Rubik’s cube was entitled to trademark protection, and there are legitimate grounds to badger other toy manufacturers.
I disagree. I consider the fact that all the equivalent puzzles are generically referred to as spherical cubes and similar oxymora, is indicative that the cube is the natural shape and the variations are inferior. As with Crocs- , I believe that the puzzle should be in the public domain as it was not protected.
Apropos, I also have problems reconciling Gronis’ Toffiffee decision with the Apropo-(bugles) decision.