China Watch: Banbao Blames Lego For Not Letting Banbao Copy Lego

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As one potential war in China heats up, another is officially over, at least according to one brand.

“LEGO and BanBao Have Ended Their War” is the title of the press release sent out by BanBao Europe. The announcement celebrated a settlement between there two brands under which the duo will “seek a fair competition based on respect for each other’s position.”

If one didn’t know any better, it might sound as if Banbao — less well known as Guangdong Jumbo Grand Plastic Moulding Industrial Co., Ltd. — had finally settled a corporate dispute between equals. But Banbao was a lot less conciliatory in more private statements.

Banbao, the brand name of plastic building toys, is a chip off the old Lego block. If by “chip off” one means “knock off.” Lego has long had a contentious relationship with intellectual property law and its courts over exactly how much one can own the idea of a toy block and Banbao is just one of the companies that has challenged the iconic brand after building its brand on a segment Lego more or less invented. The bad blood between China’s Banbao and the Danish Lego goes back to 2011, when Lego first sued Banbao.

Lego has beefed with international rivals before. In 2010 the brand lost a lawsuit with Canada’s Mega Bloks over Lego’s 1999 attempt to trademark its product. On appeal, the European court ruled that Lego’s trademark was invalid as “industrial design” products like bricks did not warrant IP protection.

But the 2011 suit against Banbao wasn’t about its block system, but instead about Banbao’s packaging, which Lego charged was intentionally confusing. No surprise, Banbao’s price point is significantly lower than Lego’s. A side-by-side comparison put together by the blog Mark Matters (at top) more or less makes Lego’s case.

Making the best of a ruling against it, Banbao’s press release pledges “to respect the ruling of the Dutch court.” Further:

“The BanBao products will now further show the BanBao logo, the packages are adapted to show a distinctive BanBao design and the product designs differ from LEGO products. BanBao has further developed a new character (ToBees) with a distinctive design that is still compatible.”

But over on Banbao’s official site the brand comes off as far less respectful. In a statement at banbaoworld.com the brand whines:

“BanBao does not need an introduction anymore. The brand with the well-known building bricks had obtained a competitive position within the building brick market. That was until Lego started, and won, a lawsuit against BanBao. This was a major setback for the growing brand, but now they are back and it appears they will be able to operate stronger within the building brick market.

BanBao has been present in the building brick market for 2 years now, and has gained a lot of sales channels in a short period of time. There was however, demand from retailers and consumers to gain a clearer brand identity. Something BanBao already was working on for some time.
Still too many people considered BanBao as a copy. Therefore, the BanBao management wanted to create an own identity as soon as possible. Unfortunately for BanBao, Lego was one step ahead of them and started a lawsuit against BanBao…”

See, banbao was the innocent victim of Lego’s lawyers being just too darn fast.

Meanwhile, Lego was dealing with its own new skirmish. After pledging to not give up on girls, the brand released a product line called “Friends.” That landed in hot water with some feminists who considered the line sexist. It looks like Lego won again though as sales of the line have tripled, quite possibly aided by the controversy.

Below, a closer look at Banbao from a consumer POV:

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