Lego of my trademark

13 September 2005

Among the PR bloggers, Jeremy Pepper has taken a particularly hard line on the blogger camp that regards attempts by any company to protect its trademark, or just its supply of free cardboard boxes as unacceptable symptoms of corporate greed and power.

This week, it's the turn of Danish toymaker Lego. The lovable people from Billund have been getting flak for hosting a website that asks people to call Lego bricks by their brandname and not by the untrademarked plural Legos. The domain was probably bought to prevent cybersquatters from spamming people with offers of "l0w c0st Legos at wholesell pr1c3s" or maybe just V1agra. OK, the wording could be a little better: why should Joe Public who mistyped a URL get a lecture on how a toy company likes to be identified? But I could understand the annoyance a bit more had Lego done what it normally does to the media and bung out cease-and-desist letters at every perceived misuse of its trademark.

Pepper is right in observing that Lego is keen to keep its trademark. In fact, when I first stumbled across the comments about Lego's activities, my first thought was that the letters had started going out to bloggers. Among hacks, certain companies acquire a reputation for being particularly assiduous about protecting trademarks and you make sure those names do not come up in copy where a generic alternative would do. However, you do have to bear in mind that these are companies that have kept their trademarks successfully despite having brand names that are used by the general public as generics. How did they manage this? By nailing any mag or paper the minute one of them happens to write Biro with a lower-case 'b' when the writer meant any brand of ballpoint pen, or refer to any old building bricks as Lego bricks.

In fact, Lego has been so tight on this that simply sticking them in a picture with something else would often mean a letter in the next post. This was particularly troublesome in the electronics sector as quite a few people wanted to use them to show how small a particular device was. Very often, PRs would send these pics in and they would go in the bin immediately. It meant less hassle and, let's face it, chips plus building blocks is a pretty tired visual cliché.

The interesting thing to watch is what happens when the C&Ds go out to the blogger world. Will the public taking of offence make those companies climb down and tear up their trademark forms? Or will the corporates face this one down on the basis that it's tough for anyone to get worked up over a name over any lengthy period of time? I'd wager the latter.