There are two categories of people: those who at least once in their lives have tried to pit their wits against a Rubik’s cube and those who lie about it (most likely to avoid having to admit defeat). 

It would appear, however, that the cube’s inventor himself, the Hungarian professor of architecture and sculptor Ernö Rubik, took more than a month to put the sides of his creation back in order.

The first cube, made of wood and brown in colour, was actually invented by Rubik in 1974 with the aim of explaining to his students at the Budapest Academy of Fine Arts how it was possible to move part of a structure without causing it to break.

In the years that followed, what had meanwhile been renamed in Hungarian as the “Magic Cube” began to be sold in game stores in Europe and the United States in a version more like the one we know today, i.e., plastic and with coloured sides, quickly becoming a popular puzzle.

And it is precisely the unmistakable characteristics that distinguish Rubik’s cube that we want to address here.

In fact, a recent decision (Case R850/2022-1) of the First Board of Appeal (BOA) of the EUIPO, dismissing the appeal filed by Spin Master Toys UK Limited, upheld the decision of the Cancellation Division (Case 7527C) and sanctioned the invalidity of the three-dimensional colour trademark

The aforementioned trademark, which is the subject of European Union registration no. 005696232,  was filed on 6 February 2007 in relation to “Toys, games and puzzles, three-dimensional puzzles; electric games; electronic pocket games”, included in Class 28 of the Nice Classification.

According to the BOA, the trademark does not meet the requirements of Art. 7, paragraph 1, letter e), point ii) of Regulation No. 207/2009, which  precludes signs consisting solely of the shape of the product necessary to obtain a technical result from registration as European Union trademarks.

The general interest underlying the aforementioned article is to prevent trademark law from granting an undertaking a monopoly, of potentially unlimited duration, on technical solutions or functional characteristics of a product, so that a healthy and fair system of competition is maintained.

Specifically, in the case at hand, the arguments of the parties and the adjudicating bodies revolved around the following three essential characteristics of the trademark:

– the shape of a cube;

– the black grid on each side of the cube consisting of 3×3 rows;

– the six different colours of the squares on each side of the cube, namely red, green, blue, orange, yellow and white.

Recalling earlier decisions of the EUIPO and of the General Court of the European Union, which had already analyzed equivalent shapes, the BOA concluded that both the cube shape and the grid structure are necessary to achieve a technical result, which would be that of “a game which consists of completing a cube-shaped three-dimensional colour puzzle by generating six differently coloured faces. This purpose is achieved by axially rotating, vertically and horizontally, rows of smaller cubes of different colours until the nine squares of each face of the cube show the same colour” (Decision R452-2017).

Regarding the third essential feature, the BOA noted that the cube would not function as a puzzle if its six faces had the same colour, and therefore concluded that the six different colours of the squares on each side are also necessary to achieve a technical result.

It is interesting to note that the application for a declaration of invalidity of the aforementioned European Union registration no. 005696232  had been filed in 2013 by the Greek company Verdes Innovations S.A., which in turn, in 2015, was subjected to an invalidity action, filed by Rubik’s Brand Limited, the original holder of the European Union registration for lack of novelty (due to pre-disclosure by the same Greek company) of Community Designs registrations No. 001092928-0001, no. 001092928-0002 and no. 001092928-0003, concerning the following designs, respectively:

In short, what comes around, goes around, andit seems that the very protection of industrial property rights attributable to the Rubik’s cube and similar shapes is a real puzzle. 

Fortunately, possible controversies, past or future, will not be enough to dampen the passion revolving around the cube, an established object of countless championships and challenges to the last record!