[WASHINGTON] Lego has been on a roll with a hit movie, Star Wars-branded sets and a new line of toys that has attracted more girls to a product traditionally targeted to boys.
It's that last success, the Lego Friends line aimed at girls, that's causing the company concern. Lego is accusing three companies of making knockoffs of the product and is asking the U.S. government for help.
The Lego Friends line features girls in settings including a shopping mall, beach house and pet salon, and has been growing 20 per cent a year since it was introduced in 2012.
It came after more than four years of research and a US$40 million marketing blitz to get girls interested in the iconic plastic building blocks that have been a mainstay of boys' toy boxes for decades.
Before Lego Friends, only 9 per cent of the toy's primary users were girls, according to a survey conducted by the closely held company.
In a complaint filed Feb 6 with the US International Trade Commission in Washington, Lego asked the panel to block imports of what it says are copycat products from three companies. LaRose Industries LLC of New Jersey makes Lite Brix; Canada's Mega Brands Inc. sells "My Life As" toys; and Florida-based Best-Lock Construction Toys Inc. markets "Fairy Tale High."
The companies are "preying on the vulnerability of Lego's youthful consuming population, instead of developing their own product lines," Lego claims.
The six-member ITC is set up to investigate allegations of unfair trade practices, including unauthorised uses of US intellectual property rights. It has the power to block entry of products made overseas that violate US patents.
Lego said each of the competing figurines have the distinctive trapezoid torso, rounded feet, cylindrical head and bent arms, which are each covered by a separate design patent. They are "strikingly and substantially similar" and even have the same proportions, according to Lego. The clothing worn by the figures - shorts and skirts - are covered by copyrights.
Lego wants an import order that would cover not only the three companies but any other company making copies of its toys.
The ITC typically completes investigations in 15 to 18 months - more quickly than a district court - and has the power to order US customs officials to block items at the border.