Rubik’s cube loses EU trademark in Luxembourg court

The makers of the Rubik’s cube, the multicoloured puzzle that has baffled millions of people around the world, on Thursday lost a battle with the EU’s top court in Luxembourg to trademark its distinctive shape.

The famed toy has been protected since 1999 under a European trademark that was registered by its British manufacturer, Seven Towns, covering “three dimensional puzzles”.

But in a judgment almost as fiendishly difficult to unravel as the cube itself, the EU Court of Justice in Kirchberg struck down the trademark for the Rubik’s cube shape at the request of a German toymaker, Simba Toys.

The issue at stake was not the shape of the puzzle but its inner workings — the “technical solution consisting of its rotating capacity” — and that that can only be patented, not trademarked, the court ruled.

The cube, invented by Hungarian architecture and design professor Erno Rubik and first produced internationally in 1980, has six different coloured sides each with nine squares that have to be aligned correctly by rotating them.

The ECJ was in fact overturning a judgment by a lower EU court that had in 2014 initially rejected the appeal by Simba Toys against the trademarking of the Rubik’s Cube by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).

“The Court sets aside the judgment of the General Court and annuls the EUIPO decision which confirmed the registration of the shape of the Rubik’s Cube as an EU trademark,” the ECJ said.

It ruled that the “essential characteristics of the cubic shape in issue must be assessed in light of the technical function of the actual goods presented” — namely not just the shape but the fact that it is a rotating cube.

The EU trademark office would now have to make a new decision, it added.

More than 400 million Rubik’s Cubes have been sold globally since 1980, according to the puzzle’s website.