4 September 2020CopyrightRory O'Neill

Chinese court sentences Lego imitator to six years in prison

A Shanghai court has handed down prison sentences for up to six years for nine individuals found guilty of distributing imitator Lego toys.

According to state-run media outlet Xinhua, the “chief culprit” received a sentence of six years and a fine of RMB 90 million yuan ($13.2 million) for copyright infringement.

Eight other defendants were jailed for terms ranging from three to four and a half years, following sentencing at the Third Intermediate People's Court of Shanghai.

The toys in question were sold under the controversial Lepin brand, which has been the target of litigation by Lego in Chinese courts.

According to local media, the nine defendants formed a “criminal gang” which sold the replica Lego bricks both online and offline.

The group reportedly earned up to RMB 330 million in illegal revenue until it was broken up by Chinese police in April 2019.

In January, a Guangzhou IP court ordered Lepin to pay Lego RMB 4.7 million, after finding that the Chinese company infringed the Danish toymaker’s IP.

Lego won an initial victory against the local company in November 2018, with all infringement findings being upheld on appeal by the Guangzhou court.

At the time, Lego said the decision marked a “significant legal victory to combat against imitators”.

Lego’s general counsel for Asia-Pacific Robin Smith spoke last month at the Intellectual Property Office of SIngapore’s virtual IP Week event about the company’s efforts to fight copycat and imitator products during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smith said the main challenges for Lego in Asia had to do with copyright infringement, rather than trademark-infringing counterfeits.

“In the case of copycats, infringers will take elements of our sets,” Smith said, continuing: “They may copy the box almost exactly but their logo will be on it, which is a case of copyright infringement. Customs officials and government officials haven’t had as much experience with that.”

“We had limited success with copyright actions in the past, but the law and understanding in China has really started to grow,” she added.

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