How many of our readers loved playing with Legos as kids? Everyone? Cool, that was easy. Because, I mean, seriously. Nobody doesn’t like Legos.
Based on that obvious premise, you would think a company accused of infringing Lego’s intellectual property would have done so out of love or admiration for the toys.
Well, you’d be totally wrong. The chief executive of Best-Lock, a Canadian and Hong Kong-based company that Lego has sued for intellectual property violations, has wanted to compete with Legos ever since, as a child, the company allegedly destroyed his innocence.
In newspaper interviews after litigation began, Torsten Geller unveiled some deep-seated psychological s**t that led Lego to unsuccessfully attempt to add him as a defendant for defamation. The international toy building block company lost the attempt, but a federal judge still felt compelled to informally suggest Geller should maybe see a psychologist….
The back story here is pretty straightforward. Legos accuses Best-Lock of infringing its intellectual property. (Check out the Best-Lock website. The toys do look similar.) The bizarre part of the case arises from interviews that Geller did with a Connecticut newspaper earlier this year. From Senior District Judge Charles S. Haight Jr.’s August 20 opinion:
These interviews are somewhat puzzling. An experienced and presumably sophisticated chief executive of international corporations, in the midst of litigation conducted by skilled trial lawyers paid handsomely to speak on the corporations’ behalf in the carefully considered and nuanced language of the law, chooses journalists as the recipients of angry, personalized, solipsistic, judgmental condemnations of Lego and those who direct its business affairs. Some of the statements attributed to Geller in these interviews sound more like what one would say to one’s therapist, rather than a newspaper reporter.
The TL;DR version is that the head of Best-Lock has an ax to grind with Lego, to say the least. So how exactly did Lego allegedly wound Mr. Geller so deeply? According to the newspaper articles, Geller says the company is a bunch of liars! Liars, I tell ya! And he can’t let it go…
“They lied to me as a kid,” said Geller, who now resides in British Columbia, Canada. “That’s why I started this business. It’s a personal vendetta, yes.” In Geller’s perception, Lego committed the cardinal sin of lying to trusting children when its Danish toymaker founders introduced the Lego line in 1958 without revealing that it was patterned on a British version created during World War II by the British inventor Hilary Page. Geller claims “that as a kid he was among Lego’s biggest fans,” and only it’s learned “the plastic toy blocks originated in England in 1944, not Billund, Denmark, Lego’s world headquarters” when, having moved to London after retirement from his first business and “searching for plastic blocks for his two young sons, he discovered a British shop selling ones that weren’t Lego.” Geller reacts with fury.
“They’re crooks. They stole everything they have,” Geller said of Lego. “They never invented a thing.” The Hartford Business interview account concludes: “Meantime, Geller vows to continue his campaign to portray Lego as an unscrupulous bully bent on dismantling any threat to its iconic toy-block franchise. ‘Look, I can’t beat them on the money front,’ he said. ‘I can only beat them on the moral front.’”
This sounds like something out of Death to Smoochy. I can imagine Robin Williams, a.k.a. Rainbow Randolph, rambling crazily like this as he snorts lines and Edward Norton looks on, terrified. The opinion just keeps going. Apologies for all the block quotes, but it’s too strange not to cite:
“Torsten Geller loved LEGO blocks as a kid growing up in Germany. As a young father in England 15 years ago, he was indignant when he saw Mega Blocks and other construction toys that mimicked the designs of the iconic Danish brand…. Then he found out LEGO itself had copied the bricks invented by a British psychologist in the 1940s or at least patterned its line after them.”
The Courant article continues: “Geller, who runs Hong Kong-based Best-Lock from the west coast of Canada, said he decided to become a LEGO competitor in part because he thought it was unethical that the Danish firm copied the British bricks invented by Hilary Page. In an interview Friday, he acknowledged the similarities between the shapes of Best-Lock’s figures and LEGO’s. ‘I did the figures because I want to piss them off,’ he said. In any event, Geller added, ‘The copyright of figures is completely loony.’”
The article also quotes Geller’s contention that the conduct of Lego “was unscrupulous and immoral,” not that of Best-Lock, as Lego charged in its pleadings.
OK. As Dr. Drew might say, you need to get some help. No judgment, but go see somebody. Immediately. You’ve got to work this out.
Has Geller never learned that there’s nothing new under the sun? Oh, the humanity! The company that makes the world’s most popular colorful, stacking building blocks maybe didn’t invent the concept of stacking building blocks all by itself! And did Geller really care this much about the origin of Legos when he was still a kid of Lego-playing age? Maybe things are really different in Germany, but perhaps his parents should have just sent him outside to play with Legos (or a soccer ball or whatever kids played with before Xbox) instead of developing lifelong Bond-villain-esque psychological wounds while analyzing the history of Lego’s intellectual property.
Judge Haight busts out some psychoanalysis that is at once impressive, entertaining, and quite depressing:
Geller reveals himself during those interviews as a determined rival of Lego, motivated by senses of childhood betrayal and parental ire which seem to combine in a sort of Freudian or Jungian rage-”vendetta” is the word which, according to his interviewers, Geller chose himself to describe his commercial objective vis-a-vis Lego.
To paraphrase one of the most famous Bond villains:
Mr. Legos: Do you expect me to apologize?
Geller: No, Mr. Legos. I expect you to die.
Lego v. Best Lock Construction Toys [U.S. District Court Connecticut]