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LEGO Universe just got trickier: Judges rule LEGO bricks can't be trademarked

In our feature story about Louisville company NetDevil's attempt to fuse the magic of World of Warcraft and LEGO into a massive multiplayer online game called LEGO Universe (slated to be released next month), we looked at how respecting "the sacred language of LEGO" added extra challenges for the developers. Yesterday, that language became slightly less sacred, since European judges ruled LEGO bricks can't be trademarked.

The decision stems from rival brick maker Mega Brand's appeal of an EU trademark LEGO registered for its bricks' shape in 1999. The judges in the case agreed with Mega Brand that the trademark amounted to LEGO holding a monopoly on a functional shape -- akin to somebody having exclusive rights to the triangle.

It's a clearly a blow for one of the most venerated toy companies in the world -- but what, exactly, does it mean? Will the market now be flooded with shoddy LEGO knock-offs and unscrupulous LEGO Universe clones featuring minifigs doing all sorts of dastardly things? Will the almighty LEGO throw in the towel and close up shop, thereby depriving generations of children of the sheer, unadulterated pleasure of LEGO creation -- and their parents the pain of stepping on those pesky bricks in the middle of the night?

It's too disturbing to think about. Better just to sit back and enjoy this ridiculous video of old-school Nintendo games recreated via LEGO bricks. It's so unbearably geeky it may make your head explode into thousands of colorful plastic bricks -- but don't dare try to copyright them.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner