The Rubik's Cube Patent Controversy
The Rubik’s Cube was invented more than 40 years ago and until today is still one of the best-selling and popular toys in the world. Unfortunately, its popularity led to issues with its patents over many years. There are multiple companies in the speedcubing industry creating variants of the cube, and their work has come into conflict with the cube’s patent many times.
Seven Towns is the company that first signed a deal with Ideal Toys in order to sell the Rubik’s Cube all around the world. Seven Towns’ patent over the cube has expired, allowing imitations and changes of the original cube by any companies. Despite the expiration of the patent, there have been multiple issues in the past.
Initial Patent Infringement
The Ideal Toy Corporation released the Rubik’s Pocket Cube (a 2×2 version) due to the popularity of the original Rubik’s Cube. Unfortunately, the patent for a cube similar to the one that was held by Larry D. Nichols, which was called “2x2x2 Puzzle with Pieces Rotatable in Groups”. The patent was for a 2×2 puzzle that was kept together with magnets on the inner sides.
Nichols had his employer sue Ideal Toys in 1982 against the original Rubik’s Cube. Ideal Toys lost the suit and appealed it in 1984. In 1986 it was decided by the courts that the Pocket Cube did infringe on Nichols’ patent, but not on the Rubik’s Cube.
One of the first companies to manufacture puzzles like the Rubik’s Cube after the patent expired in 2000 is V-Cube. In 2008 they started to sell cubes even though patents had been released earlier. In addition, V-Cube patented the method to create big puzzles of 5x5x5 and more. Currently, they are manufacturing puzzles ranging from 2x2x2 to 9x9x9, but they actually have patents that include up to 11x11x11 cubes.
V-Cube is considered to be controversial because they took legal action against companies that released similar puzzles. In 2010 they prevented the Maru 4×4 from being sold. In addition, they took legal action against the DaYan GuHong, claiming it was a violation of their V-Cube 3 patent. Eventually, both cube models became available, and V-Cube did not take any more action against other companies.
DaYan Colour Scheme
In 2012, Seven Towns began a copyright infringement claim on DaYan for their color scheme. The DaYan cube was regarded as a knock-off version of the Rubik’s Cube. The claim was that the clockwise configuration of the red, white, and blue stickers represented the copyrighted image of Rubik’s. DaYan was required to use purple instead of orange in their cubes due to the legal suit, but eventually, they were able to use orange once more.
At the time of the lawsuit, there were even reports that huge amounts of DaYan cubes were seized and broken at customs. In order to prevent further issues, a lot of companies took down similar puzzles from their sites and sold DIY (Do It Yourself) kits in order to prevent more issues. In 2013 there were rumors that puzzle cubes were getting destroyed in customs again, but in the end, it turned out to be a false alarm.
Rubik’s Cube Shape Trademark
Seven Towns has been campaigning to copyright the shape of the Rubik’s Cube since 2006 in order to prevent knock-off versions from competing with them. In 1999, Seven Towns registered the cube shape with the EUIPO (European Union Intellectual Property Office). Simba Toys, a German toy company, challenged the trademark in 2006. They claimed that the cube’s function should be patented, not trademarked.
After a 10-year legal battle, Simba Toys successfully removed the Rubik’s 3D cube trademark. This success was a big step to oppose monopolies of the puzzle toy. This ruling benefited Chinese companies that created modified speedcubes.