From the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune:
“The LEGO Group, one of the world’s largest toymakers, has sued a small Minneapolis nonprofit called Project Legos, claiming it is violating trademark restrictions and “cybersquatting” its name online.”
News of the lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, came as a surprise to Project Legos, a youth empowerment organization with a total of six full- and part-time employees.
LEGO’s Complaint charges Project Legos with unfair competition, trademark dilution, deceptive trade practices and cybersquatting (arising from the nonprofit use of the domain “projectlegos.org“).
Anytime a large, multinational corporation sues a small nonprofit with only a handful of employees, our sympathies usually rest with the underdog.
According to Project Legos Executive Director Kyle Rucker, who founded the group in 2005 as a college sophomore at the University of Minnesota, the organization’s use of the name “Legos” refers to its mission of “leadership, empowerment, growth, opportunity and sustainability.”
A cursory glance at the organization’s website doesn’t reveal any use of trade dress, pictures of building blocks, or other designs that appear to be trading on LEGO’s goodwill (other than the use of the name “Legos,” of course).
So is there any merit to LEGO’s claims?
Interestingly, LEGO does have its own organization, the LEGO Children’s Fund, that, according to the Complaint, does similar work to Project Legos.
And, although it’s hard to see LEGO coming off as anything other than Goliath, the Star Tribune does touch on an interesting point that’s always at issue in David versus Goliath cases– the obligation of mark owners to take measures to diligently protect their mark. According to Dean Karau of Minneapolis law firm Fredrikson & Byron, who is quoted in the story, “If LEGO doesn’t take steps to enforce its trademark rights when it learns about a possible infringement [...] that fact could be used against them in a future litigation with a larger, more well-heeled entity.”
In any event, this will be another good one to follow. And we’ll see if public relations concerns end up carrying the day, as it often does in cases like this. After all, it’s nice to be Goliath most of the time– until you wind up in court with David.