Project Legos, a community outreach organization started by University of Minnesota alumni, could be forced to break apart their moniker after the toymaker LEGO Group filed a trademark lawsuit against them.
The Danish company filed a federal lawsuit against Project Legos last Friday, alleging a litany of trademark-related infractions, according to the court complaint. The value in question is more than $75,000.
University graduates Kyle Rucker and Mike Jackson started the project in 2005 while they were roommates, Jackson said. They wanted to challenge the way people thought about the world, starting with their roommates.
Their name stands for “Leadership, empowerment, growth, opportunity, sustainability,” Jackson said.
However, the LEGO Group took issue.
“The consuming public is likely to be confused, deceived and misled into believing that [Project Legos’] services are provided, authorized, endorsed or sponsored by [the LEGO Group],” according to the complaint.
The LEGO Group did not return calls for comment.
The lawsuit accuses Project Legos of:
— Trademark infringement: Consumer confusion that two different organizations are related.
— Trademark dilution: The uniqueness of a famous brand lessened by association with another group.
— “Cybersquatting”: Using a trademarked name as an Internet address and attempting to sell it back to the company.
University of Minnesota law professor Tom Cotter , a trademark specialist, said although the outcome of the lawsuit is uncertain, trademark dilution is perhaps the most pertinent charge against Project Legos.
Cotter said the fame of a brand is one of the largest factors considered in trademark dilution.
The LEGO trademark came into use in the United States in 1953, according to the complaint. Sales have totaled more than $1 billion over the past 10 years, and advertising expenditures have exceeded $50 million in the same period.
When dealing with trademark infringement, courts typically look to consumer confusion as the largest factor and examine the similarity between the goods or services provided.
“I would be surprised actually to find that anybody has been actually confused in any way that has led them to patronize [Project Legos’] services out of thought that it had some connection with the toymaker,” Cotter said.
Project Legos’ services include youth programs, civic engagement events and youth leadership efforts, Jackson said.
Moving forward, Jackson said the group is attempting to find a pro bono lawyer to help them determine if the lawsuit has merit.
If so, he said the group would hold a contest to choose a new name and continue on as usual.
“It just seems so bizarre to me that a company that makes toys for kids and communities would even want to try and come after someone who’s doing [community] work,” Jackson said. “It’d be different if we had that name and were out there wreaking havoc.”