Lego A/S v. Best-Lock Construction Toys Inc.
"Sculptural" elements of a toy may qualify for copyright protection, even if the applicant allegedly fails to disclose to the Copyright Office that some elements of the toy are "functional." In 1994, Lego registered copyrights for "minifigures" that have cylindrical heads, cylindrical necks, trapezoidal torsos, bent elbows and square, block-like feet that can be attached to other figures and studded blocks. In 1998, a competitor, Best-Lock Construction Toys, began selling its own "minifigures," which are the same size as Lego's and, like Lego's, have cylindrical heads, cylindrical necks, trapezoidal torsos, bent elbows and square, block-like feet that can be attached to studded blocks. In 2011, Lego sued Best-Lock, alleging copyright violation. Best-Lock moved for a preliminary injunction. It argued that Lego's "minifigures" do not qualify for copyright protection as "pictorial, graphic or sculptural" works, because they attach to other figures, parts and construction pieces and are "functional." The 2nd Circuit held in Hasbro Bradley Inc. v. Sparkle Toys, a 1985 decision, that "changeable robotic action figures" were "pictorial, graphic or sculptural." Here, the court found that drawings on the faces of "minifigures," the cylindrical shapes of the heads, the curvatures at the tops of the heads, the trapezoidal shapes of the torsos, the square, block-like shoulders, the tops of the arms, the bent elbows, the straight legs and the square feet qualified as "sculptural" elements. Best-Lock failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits with respect to functionality. Best-Lock also failed to prove that Lego committed a fraud, because it allegedly did not disclose to the Copyright Office that the studs in the base of the feet or the size of the "minifigures" were "functional" elements that could not be copyrighted. The court was not persuaded that disclosure would have led the Copyright Office to reject the copyright application or that the Copyright Office did not examine the toys for functionality. The court also rejected Best-Lock's claim that elements that were patented had to be disclosed in the copyright application. Lego is likely to prevail on the merits, and the court denied Best-Lock's motion for a preliminary injunction.