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What the Seven Towns Copyright Covers

cyoubx

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I recently got in a conversation with Seven Towns regarding the scope of their copyright on the Rubik's cube. This seemed like a relevant topic considering the sudden influx of new puzzles. There seems to a lot of confusion regarding the legality of these new cubes. Coincidentally, a Reddit post has surfaced which brings this into question.

Certainly, Seven Towns' patent has expired; this is what allows new cubes to have their mechanisms patented. However, Seven Towns also has a copyright on both the Rubik's cube and it's associated (2-D) images. Copyrights are given to works of art, be it literature or design. As the Rubik's cube fits into this category, a copyright is completely logical.

Here is the full response regarding this issue I received from Seven Towns:

The name Rubik’s is a registered trademark in multiple classes. The 2x2, 3x3 and 4x4 Cubes are copyrighted objects as are their 2D images. In addition the 2x2, 3x3 and 4x4 Cubes are registered 3D trademarks in multiple classes in a huge number of countries. Copyright exists for most works of art or creations and the 3x3 Rubik’s Cube qualifies as it was for instance exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Copies of any original work may infringe the authors rights, even if they are not identical. Professor Erno Rubik has authorised Seven Towns to be the holder of this copyright and to have the ability to take action. Trademark protection (a separate form of intellectual property) exists where a company has used a certain name, logo or design (which can be in 3D) for a number of years to identify products or a service and where people recognise and associate the trademark with the design, image or product. Anyone else who then sells anything that might cause confusion in the mind of the buyer as to the origin of the goods or who trades off the reputation and goodwill built up over the years is infringing the trademark. Registered trademarks are more powerful and give better protection that un-registered trademarks especially where use and recognition of the trademarks are substantial.

It is true that the original patents have lapsed and in some cases new patents have been taken out by other non-authorised or unlicensed copy manufacturers. These patents may or may not be valid, but in any case the Rubik’s products do not infringe any known patent. The granting of those patents does not mean that the products are legal since the patents refer to the internal mechanism. The outside design of these “patented” cubes still usually infringe the other forms of intellectual property protection mentioned above and this results in hundreds of thousands of illegal Cubes being seized and destroyed each year by customs officers in over 40 countries.

The Rubik’s team employs over 30 different legal companies around the world to continually battle against illegal importers and illegal use of the Rubik’s name and Rubik Cube image. However it is simply not practical to take action against every single instance of infringement and therefore focus is given to the more serious and financially significant breaches of the intellectual property.
Of course, I don't want to mislead people who respond to this thread with my own anecdotes but I have some important considerations:

1. Although it is inconvenient for speedsolvers, copyright claims certainly make a lot of sense for Seven Towns as a company.
2. So a DIY kit should be fair game, right? Particularly ones with just a plastic bag for packaging, nothing would imply that the pieces assemble to become a "magic cube." For example, if I gave a DIY kit to a noncuber, he/she wouldn't have any reason to believe that the assembled product is a magic cube.

Thoughts on any of this?
 

Noahaha

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I just don't see tiny speedcube manufacturers stealing from their business. Do they realize how much the speedcubing community has done for them?
 

qqwref

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I think it's ridiculous. They say "illegal use of the Rubik’s name and Rubik Cube image" - that's not at all the situation here. Speedcubes are not knockoffs that claim to be official Rubik's cubes, with the name and image copied, produced for cheap in China. The differences are clear and obvious to anyone who would buy these cubes - the construction is different, and the brand and packaging is different and very clearly distinguishable. I think the copyright as written is overly broad, and all of this to be the equivalent of patent trolling (i.e. bullying) by a very large company who wants to get rid of its competition. Of course IANAL and I am sure that the anti-competitive nature of copyrights was entirely intentional.
 

cyoubx

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Saying that speedcubes boost Seven Towns' sales is like saying piracy improves music sales. Possibly true but not provable.

Inb4dayanisn'tapirate. Piracy is simply analogous to a cheap alternative. The illegality is just coincidental. Don't misread my comment.
 

Noahaha

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Saying that speedcubes boost Seven Towns' sales is like saying piracy improves music sales. Possibly true but not provable.

Inb4dayanisn'tapirate. Piracy is simply analogous to a cheap alternative. The illegality is just coincidental. Don't misread my comment.
But they even advertise the WR solve on their website. Surely they see SOME value in it.
 

cyoubx

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But they even advertise the WR solve on their website. Surely they see SOME value in it.
I think that's just to make cubing seem cool rather than say DaYan cubes are world-record-worthy. Noncubers would just think the WR was with a store bought. I'm not sure I see the connection you're trying to make.
 

Noahaha

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I think that's just to make cubing seem cool rather than say DaYan cubes are world-record-worthy. Noncubers would just think the WR was with a store bought. I'm not sure I see the connection you're trying to make.
I'm trying to say that the fact that Rubik's is using speedcubing to their advantage shows that they understand that speedcubing helps their sales. This might be a reason why they should stop trying to get rid of speedcubes.
 

Ranzha

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I'm trying to say that the fact that Rubik's is using speedcubing to their advantage shows that they understand that speedcubing helps their sales. This might be a reason why they should stop trying to get rid of speedcubes.
I think Seven Towns uses speedsolving to potentially help their sales, not Seven Towns realising speedsolving already does.
 

qqwref

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Seven Towns is certainly profiting from speedcubing as a hobby - using it as part of their advertising and acting like speedcubing competitions are related to their company. And unlike piracy, you can't really argue that a Dayan cube sale is a lost Rubik's sale, because the people who buy speedcubes are specifically looking for a speedcube, which means they wouldn't be buying a Rubik's one anyway. The whole thing is clearly a net positive for them.

Indeed, I think it's pretty clear that cubes would not be anywhere near as popular now without the effect of the speedcubing community in revitalizing the puzzle - just look at all the press for major competitions and new puzzle modifications, and for individual cubers getting on the news.
 
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The thing is, SevenTowns sponsor competitions globally, I've seen a couple Rubik's representatives at the ones I've been to, they know about these cubes and the reasons why speedsolvers choose them over their brand. I just don't see why they have to do this now and what benefits it gains them >.> I hope it's not gonna be V cubes all over again
 

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There were 7 or so videos of WR and former WR solves that had 3 million views when I searched 3x3 world record. Out of those 21,000,000 people, lets make an understatement and say that .01 of those people went out and bought a $17 Rubik's brand. This means that from those viewers alone they sold 210,000 Rubik's cubes which amounts to $3,750,000, and yet they think they are losing money...
 

pjk

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I think it's ridiculous. They say "illegal use of the Rubik’s name and Rubik Cube image" - that's not at all the situation here. Speedcubes are not knockoffs that claim to be official Rubik's cubes, with the name and image copied, produced for cheap in China. The differences are clear and obvious to anyone who would buy these cubes - the construction is different, and the brand and packaging is different and very clearly distinguishable. I think the copyright as written is overly broad, and all of this to be the equivalent of patent trolling (i.e. bullying) by a very large company who wants to get rid of its competition. Of course IANAL and I am sure that the anti-competitive nature of copyrights was entirely intentional.
Well said.

It is a very gray area. They don't specifically list which products they feel infringes on their copyright, and have provided little cooperation to the speedcubing community. Many people have tried to contact them about this issue over the years and have received little response. It is a shame that Rubik's isn't working with the community to solve the issue, but instead is gaining a bad rep. among us.
 

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It all seems wrong and overly litigious to me.
Do Seven Towns not realise how much value they would add to their proposition if they developed an actual speedcube of their own instead of running around the world with their lawyers?
 

kinch2002

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Seventowns have a bad rep because everyone just takes the first 2 things that comes into their minds and they make a conclusion from it:
1. I'm a speedcuber who doesn't like using Rubik's brand cubes
2. This company tell me that my cubes are illegal "but the patent has run out".
Their conclusion: Seventowns are wrong, I do not like this company and will spread the news about how horrible they are

They have various legal rights that still hold. This is quite clear from the OP and was known before. They fight with that to protect their product. Who in their right mind would not want to fight? Call it bullying or being horrible or whatever if you want, but the truth is that they have a right to defend their product.

They totally understand what the speedcubing community does for them. Trust me, I know the Seventowns people very well. They even sponsor the major competitions - they are not stupid! They don't stop small shipments of cubes that you order through the post from China - we know this from experience and from what they tell me. They will try to stop large shipments, such as any time thousands of cubes head towards a high street shop. A lot of people are aware of "real-life" shops selling non Rubik's and V-cube brands in Asia especially. These are the kinds of things they try to prevent.
 

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I don't think they're talking about Dayan/Modu/Funs Puzzles - take a look at the boxes, that's precisely why they don't show the patent-protected 2D image of a cube, they show mechanism, individual pieces, but not the assembled puzzle. Also, they don't use the R word anywhere, it's always "magic cube".

With regard to Cyoubix OP, I don't think it's an issue of DIY/pre-assembled - pretty sure you could distribute a cube in a blank white card box, or a box with a picture of a sumo wrestler/jar of mayo/cow on it - as long as it doesn't have the R word, or a picture of the assembled puzzle.

Take a look at this for example - the key phrase is "Anyone else who then sells anything that might cause confusion in the mind of the buyer as to the origin of the goods or who trades off the reputation and goodwill built up over the years is infringing the trademark." The cube at the link above is clearly marketed using the Rubik's name, but clearly isn't Rubik's. This cube is marketed using the reputation of the Rubik's brand, and so is clearly in violation of the copywright. And took me less than 60 seconds to find with a google search. And is on Amazon, ***!!!

I think now the mechanism copywright has expired (assuming that's what OP is referring to?), none of this should affect speecdubers or the speedcubing community. Rubik's are (justifiably) trying to protect their own brand image. I'm sure they payed Mr R an absolute fortune for the copywright to the Rubik's name and design. If people market $1 crappy cubes as 'Rubik's', they will be seized and destroyed, because they're potentially damaging the "reputation and goodwill" of the company. Dayan cubes, for example, aren't marketed as Rubik's, and don't use the 2D image. There is no grounds for seizure or destruction, as they don't infringe on either element of the Seven Town copywright.

The bit that confuses me is this: "It is true that the original patents have lapsed and in some cases new patents have been taken out by other non-authorised or unlicensed copy manufacturers. These patents may or may not be valid, but in any case the Rubik’s products do not infringe any known patent. The granting of those patents does not mean that the products are legal since the patents refer to the internal mechanism. The outside design of these “patented” cubes still usually infringe the other forms of intellectual property protection mentioned above and this results in hundreds of thousands of illegal Cubes being seized and destroyed each year by customs officers in over 40 countries."

So they're implying that there are ongoing legal battles with the new patent-holders, and that the patents might not be valid. But again, it's the "outside design" that infringes on the intellectual copywright, so selling it in a box with no image of the completed puzzle should be fine, right?

Yeah, it's very inconvenient that they have a copywright on the 2D image, but I think as long as something is unambiguously NOT a 'Rubik's' cube, and doesn't bear a 2D image of the assembled puzzle on the packaging, we're all good. Aren't we?!
 

mark49152

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@pipkiksass: My impression from the thread and links above is that ST are claiming the cube itself as the copyrighted design work, not just images of it.
 

pjk

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Seventowns have a bad rep because everyone just takes the first 2 things that comes into their minds and they make a conclusion from it:
1. I'm a speedcuber who doesn't like using Rubik's brand cubes
2. This company tell me that my cubes are illegal "but the patent has run out".
Their conclusion: Seventowns are wrong, I do not like this company and will spread the news about how horrible they are
I'm not sure how others give them a bad rep, but that is not true for me. Many companies have produced puzzles with significant variation from the Rubik's cube, and have vastly improved it from a speedcubing standpoint, and Rubik's knows this. Instead of targeting the massive manufacturers of these products, they cease large shipments to re-sellers. It is a terrible way to battle the issue. When 1 re-seller gets shut down, another just opens. When 1 Paypal account gets suspended, another just opens. If a big package gets ceased, just send multiple smaller shipments. If an assembled cube is a problem, just send DIYs. This has been happening continuously among puzzle stores for years. The bad rep. comes from 0 communication toward the community or any of the people responsible for distributing these puzzles. What products exactly infringe on their copyright? The reply they gave that was posted in post #1 couldn't be anymore vague.

They have various legal rights that still hold. This is quite clear from the OP and was known before. They fight with that to protect their product. Who in their right mind would not want to fight? Call it bullying or being horrible or whatever if you want, but the truth is that they have a right to defend their product.
Obviously they need to protect their product, but what products specifically violate their copyright? I've emailed many people at Rubik's over the last 5 years and have yet to receive a single reply. If they simply communicated with the sellers, the majority of them would likely help their cause and help protect their copyright. But the way they have handled it over the years puts all the blame on the re-sellers, and none on the manufacturers, and leaves re-sellers with little reason to support them.

They totally understand what the speedcubing community does for them. Trust me, I know the Seventowns people very well. They even sponsor the major competitions - they are not stupid! They don't stop small shipments of cubes that you order through the post from China - we know this from experience and from what they tell me. They will try to stop large shipments, such as any time thousands of cubes head towards a high street shop. A lot of people are aware of "real-life" shops selling non Rubik's and V-cube brands in Asia especially. These are the kinds of things they try to prevent.
It is indeed very kind of the UK Rubik's people to keep the UK competition going. From what I remember, those people were very kind. I assume they aren't part of the policy violation team though, considering everyone at the competitions they sponsor are using the same products that Rubik's says violates their patent (from my gray understanding) - no one is even using Rubik's products at these competitions that Rubik's sponsor.

I'm not a lawyer and don't know the exactly what can be enforced and what can't, but the underlying reason why the speedcubing community doesn't buy Rubik's products is because there are better, different, and cheaper alternatives out there. The non-speedcubing community doesn't know this, hence why they will pay twice as much for a worse product. Rubik's should be innovating, and supporting innovation, not ignoring it and then when it happens trying to enforce whatever legal rights they have. That is patent/trademark/copyright bullying, and it happens all the time. It should be eliminated.
 
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