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Monday, 1 December 2014

LEGO - a successful invention

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In July 1958, one Mr. Godtfred Kirk Christensen filed a patent at the US Patent office. It was a design for a toy, made of bricks that had "cylindrical projections" on top, and "tubular projections" on the bottom. Both the cylindrical projections and tubular projections could make contact on one or more walls of the brick, and would snap together in a "clamping engagement".

There was a priority date of 28 January 1958, as it had been filed first in Denmark. The patent was granted in October 1961.

A Successful Toymaker 

LEGO is today, an empire built on one invention. Today generation after generation knows the LEGO brand. Not surprisingly, it has enjoyed strong sales. In 2013, Bloomberg quoted an analyst as saying, "Bloomberg is on fire. It’s the world’s biggest toymaker in terms of net income, operating income and Ebitda. It had a 71 percent gross margin in its latest results and is posting strong sales growth."

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen and his 3 children.

The same Bloomberg article placed LEGO as the most valuable toymaker in the world, worth between USD15 billion to USD17 billion. In contrast, LEGO's website in 2012 modestly stated that they were the "world’s third-largest manufacturer of toys". The LEGO Group was founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Kristiansen.

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen was, according to this Wikipedia article, the third son of Ole Kirk Kristiansen. Godtfred's son, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, is the richest man in Denmark.

1958 was not only the year that Godtfred invented the present famous LEGO block; it was also the year that Ole Kirk Kristiansen passed away, and Godtfred Kirk Christiansen took over the company as chairman. Source Later, Godtfred's son Kjeld took over the reins of the company. Source

The present CEO, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, joined LEGO in 2001 and became CEO in 2004. (Source: Bloomberg) LEGO had been making losses since 2001 to 2004, due to indiscriminate diversification and intense competition. Under Knudstorp, the company divested its unessential businesses and re-focussed on its core, and became profitable again.

The US Patent

Read the original US patent 3005282 at Google Patents. Here are images from the patent.

The design of LEGO's play blocks which will be familiar to many readers.

In claim 6, there were "cross shaped protuberances". Ref: figure 9 & 10.
In claim 7, the "protuberances" were "circular in cross-section". Ref: figure 8.
I haven't seen any LEGO blocks designed according to figures 9, 10, and 11.....


It seems that the IP firm "Stevens Davis" that filed the patent closed down in 2008: "Intellectual property firm Novak Druce + Quigg LLP has scooped up five attorneys, including three partners, with the dissolution of boutique IP firm Stevens Davis Miller Mosher LLP. .... Most of the other attorneys formerly with Stevens Davis joined Dickinson Wright PLLC." Source: Law360
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Ostrich Pillow -- An example of a successful idea commercialization

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The Ostrich Pillow is a pillow that is shaped like a hollow bean bag, meant to enclose the human head and present a soothing napping environment for its users.

The Ostrich Pillow.

A design variation of the Ostrich Pillow.

From its KickStarter website: "OSTRICH PILLOW offers a micro environment in which to take a comfortable power nap in the office, travelling or wherever you want." The Ostrich Pillow was successfully funded on 18th October 2012.

When interviewed by In Bed With Designers, the inventors said: "We have been overwhelmed with the positive response and delighted to be able to fulfill the global need for napping." The idea came about when they observed, "...subsequent to the invention of the light bulb people are sleeping less and less." The idea they hit upon was "mobile napping".

The Ostrich Pillow was also covered by CNN and Huffington Post, in 2012. Yes, I have been away...

The design patents for the Ostrich Pillow are here:

Thanks to Justia Patents for the lead information. Apparently, both design patents were filed in 2013 (March and October, respectively), after the success of their KickStarter campaign. Both were issued on 21st October 2014. Which is fairly recent, if I may so observe.

It makes sense, because why would you want to spend money on a design patent unless the commercial viability of the product is validated? 
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