Lego A/S wants to make sure any plastic toy figurine unwrapped in an American home during the holidays isn’t what the toymaker calls a copycat of its own products.
The Danish toymaker is asking a federal judge in Connecticut to prevent Zuru Toys Inc. from selling some of its Max Build More and Mayka lines of construction toys at Walmart Inc. stores. In a lawsuit filed on Thursday, Lego claims the Zuru products copy the distinctive look of Lego Minifigures, and would confuse consumers into thinking they were Lego toys.
“While the Lego Group welcomes fair competition, Zuru’s nationwide launch” of the Max Build More products at Walmart’s retail and online stores in October “was anything but fair play,” Lego said in a filing with the court.
Lego, like many toymakers, is known for being aggressive in protecting its brand, which includes popular movies, theme parks and sets based on the Star Wars and Harry Potter brands. The main patents on its iconic connecting blocks have expired, so it relies instead on patented designs, and the copyrighted and trademarked looks of the figurines -- from Luke Skywalker to Batman.
Unless it’s stopped, Lego said, “Zuru will continue to exploit the actual and inevitable consumer confusion caused by its inferior infringing products during this prime holiday buying season, while causing irreparable harm to the Lego Group’s goodwill and reputation.”
Lego has filed a request for an emergency restraining order to halt Zuru’s sales of the figures, and said the Max Build More products should be kept off the market until the infringement lawsuit is completed. A hearing has been scheduled for Friday afternoon in New Haven, Connecticut.
Europe’s biggest toymaker was founded by a carpenter Ole Kirk Kristiansen, who started making wooden toys in the 1930s and named his company after the Danish phrase for “play well.” The company has remained in the family and is now run by Kristiansen’s grandson.
Zuru has an origin story that’s similar to Lego’s, albeit having taken place almost a century later. The Hong Kong-based company was founded by New Zealand siblings about 15 years ago and started with the eldest brother Mat Mowbray’s school science fair idea for a hot air balloon kit set. It’s turned the Mowbrays into celebrities in their home country.
Zuru sells a range of products, including fidget spinners with images of the Marvel Avengers characters, but is best known for its Bunch O Balloons, which lets you fill multiple water balloons at once, and was the subject of patent litigation when Zuru sued a competitor over what it claimed were knockoffs.
Thomas Dunlap, a lawyer with Dunlap, Bennett & Ludwig in Leesburg, Virginia, who’s represented Zuru in the Bunch O Balloons and other intellectual property cases, said the company is reviewing the new Lego complaint.
Zuru advertises on its packaging that the Max Build More products are “Lego Blocks Compatible.” It bills the figurines as “mini figures” while Lego’s are called Minifigures.
The case is Lego A/S v Zuru Inc., 18-2045, U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut (New Haven).