Nonprofit Newswire | Giant Toymaker Blocks Tiny Nonprofit Over Use of Name

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March 22, 2010; Pioneer Press | One can only hope that as word spreads about a lawsuit that pits the giant Legos company against a tiny nonprofit called Project Legos, cooler heads in the toymaker’s Danish headquarters will prevail and the whole thing will go away.

At issue, is a claim by the $2.1 billion maker of the familiar interlocking toy bricks that its name is being improperly used by a $150,000 Minneapolis-based, youth-serving nonprofit. In court papers Lego claims trademark infringement, deceptive trade practices and accuses the youth program of trading “off the significant goodwill symbolized by and the strong public recognition of the Lego marks.”

The nonprofit’s founder, Kyle Rucker, describes the lawsuit as a “pain,” and adds, “We’re serving young people in the community, and this is kind of the last thing we want to deal with. We feel kind of bullied. This is a big, bad gigantic organization and we’re a $150,000 nonprofit.”

Founded five years ago, Project Legos stands for Leadership, Empowerment, Growth, Opportunity and Sustainability, and its goal, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, is to help at-risk youth better their lives and their communities. “We have a civic engagement program, we have our youth programs, and then we have new initiatives called Project 8,” Rucker said. “We’re empowering young people to be change agents and realize their power.”

In addition to claims of trademark violations and infringement, Legos also maintains that the nonprofit’s use of the web domain name www.projectlegos.org “has caused and will continue to cause irreparable harm.”

Surely as more and more people hear about the suit and the lengths Legos is going to block the youth program from using its name, there won’t be any confusion in people’s minds about who the bad guys are in this case.—Bruce Trachtenberg

  • Sue Bernier

    Hate to type it, but I think you got this one wrong. Just because the “big, bad gigantic organization” also makes billions of dollars, doesn’t make them wrong. The small non-profit might have a nice mission and good intentions, but they made a big mistake 5 years ago. Just because they might be the nice guys, it doesn’t make it legal to use a corporate name or brand to further your mission. Sorry, Kyle, but it’s time for name change.

  • Feeling Skeptical

    It may not be very productive to think of this as a David-and-Goliath story. A more useful lesson for the nonprofit community would be this: copyright infringement is more trouble than it’s worth. Most people would probably agree that a nonprofit calling itself “The Coca-Cola Project” would be taking unfair advantage of the brand, and that if the nonprofit’s mission was to euthanize cute puppies, it might harm Coca-Cola’s image. In other words, the Legos people aren’t “bad guys” (in fact, their product encourages creative play -“empowering young people” in their way), they are just looking out for their own well-being.