Fun and Games: Toying around with IPPatent Speak
December 29, 2017
My Netflix binge watching these holidays was for research purposes. That's my story and I'm sticking with it. I stumbled onto a little gem of a doco series called The Toys That Made Us.
Each episode takes a nostalgic look at the most popular toy lines in history: Star Wars, Barbie, Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Lego, Hello Kitty (a personal childhood fav), Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Trek.
The series got me reminiscing about some of the most iconic, patented toys and games from years gone by.
It’s only fitting to mention the Star Wars toys and merchandise, given that the film franchise just keeps rolling on. I suppose the recent movie had to be called Star Wars: The Last Jedi because Star Wars: The NeverEnding Story just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Toys such as Yoda, C-3PO, R2-D2, Boba Fett, AT-AT Walker and Jabba the Hutt, have been afforded protection under various design patents. Everyone's favourite droid, BB-8, and his unique drive system is protected under a patent.
Over the past 40 years, this intergalactic phenomenon, through the licensed IP and merchandise, together with movie ticket sales, has raked in over US$39.5 billion. A lot of cash that is.
Whether you've grown up pronouncing it as “lego” or “laygo”, there's one thing we can all agree on: Everything (Lego) is Awesome.
The name Lego is an abbreviation of the Danish words “leg godt” meaning “play well” and since 1932, the company has been playing very well in the business stakes. As of May 2017, the Lego brand was valued at US$7.9B. The Lego brick design as we know it today, was introduced back in 1958 and the design and functionality of the brick was subject of patent protection.
The production plant in Billund, Denmark works around the clock to produce 120 million bricks a day. This means there’s no shortage of Lego to keep kids everywhere, big and small, amused. There's also plenty to ensure every parent gets to experience the joys of stepping on Lego.
My friends know my mantra when it comes to Monopoly (or any other board game really): if you’re not prepared to lose a friend over it, you’re not playing hard enough. Landing on Mayfair can either bring back happy childhood memories or reignite decades old family grudges.
Parker Brothers Inc. obtained patent protection for the board game back in 1935. Notably, Charles Darrow was the inventor named on the patent and made his fortune from royalties through sales of the game. However, it was later determined that Darrow had copied an earlier patented game known as The Landlord’s Game, which had been invented by Elizabeth J. Magie. Parker Brothers went on to also purchase the earlier patents held by Magie and with this IP strategy, the company effectively monopolised the game of Monopoly.
Generally speaking, games that are merely abstract ideas, schemes or mental processes, are not considered patentable. Interestingly, it's unlikely that Monopoly would "Pass Go" and obtain valid patent protection under current patent law.
Urban legend tells of a 3-year old girl with a bowl haircut who dominated with a Rubik’s Cube. Read: My parents witnessed me snatch a Rubik’s Cube from a much older kid and clobber him on the head with it. In my defence, he wasn’t sharing. For those playing at home, he was fine.
The patent for the Rubik’s Cube was issued in 1983 and ironically titled “Spatial logical toy”; I’ve only ever been able to complete a single side. The abstract of the patent even states that the toy is intended to stimulate logical thinking activity. Perhaps at the tender age of 3, the only logical use I had for the Rubik’s Cube was to smite other kids on the playground.
I have always wanted to get my oven mitts on an Easy-Bake Oven. The patent, which was granted back in 1968, states that it can be used to "bake many different types of foods...[and] with little experience turn out baked products that are excellent”. I think this product would make a great addition to any working professional’s desk. Meetings are always more productive with freshly baked cookies.
Since her debut in 1959, Barbie has been working hard for the money. In 2016, the brand was valued at US$571 million.
The first patent for Barbie granted back in 1961, provided protection for the construction of the doll and its ability to stand or be supported in a realistic way. As Barbie evolved and improved, there were a suite of patents covering these improvements including the life-like movement in her arms and legs.
Also kudos to the brand for embracing cultural and social diversity, with dolls now having different body shapes, sizes, hairstyles* and skin tones. Barbie’s all grown up and out to run the world.
*My Barbie received a very unflattering bowl haircut back in the day – it’s only fair since I was sporting one at the time.
For something that started out life as wallpaper cleaner, Play-Doh has raked in some serious dough. The patent for “Plastic modeling composition of a soft, pliable working consistency” was granted in 1965 (thank god for brand names eh? Because patent titles just aren’t sexy).
It’s been estimated that more than 3 billion tubs of Play-Doh have been sold. I suspect a lot of these sales are to replace the tubs of colours that have been smashed together and now resemble the inner colour of a Chiko Roll.
In early 2017, Hasbro also submitted a trade mark application seeking registration and protection of the Play-Doh scent, which is described as “a unique scent formed through the combination of a sweet, slightly musky, vanilla-like fragrance, with slight overtones of cherry, and the natural smell of a salted, wheat-based dough”. You want to go sniffing a tub of Play-Doh now don’t you?
Etch A Sketch
Arthur Granjean, a French mechanical engineer, created a new toy that he dubbed the L’Ecran Magique, “The Magic Screen”. The patent outlines the inner magical workings of the toy.
Unfortunately, European investors didn’t find anything magical about the toy. But it was snapped up by US company, The Ohio Art Co, who modified the design with the addition of the two knobs and rebranded it the Etch A Sketch. With this marketing magic, the Etch A Sketch became the must have toy of 1960.
If you’re anything like me and can’t draw to save yourself, here’s some over-achieving examples of what can be created on an Etch A Sketch.
Honourable mention goes to the patent for Twister, which includes this hilariously creepy illustration and descriptive gems like directing a player to “entwine his body in a pretzel-like manner around the body of an opponent” forcing their opponent into a “gamelosing position”.
If you're keen to chat about possible IP protection strategies for your toy or game products, please say hey. Anyone up for game of Monopoly? Fair warning. I'm competitive.