When LEGO Nearly Brick-Blocked Lucasfilm

Conventional wisdom says that the relationship between Lucasfilm and LEGO started in 1997 when the two parties first met to discuss what would become a golden goose – the LEGO Star Wars theme. Well, conventional wisdom is wrong, because Lucasfilm and LEGO actually crossed paths nearly 20 years earlier when 20th Century Fox’s lawyers flagged a potential conflict over the application of the “land speeder” trademark.

Foreshadowing the position Lucasfilm found itself in during August 2020 when it was discovered that Lucasfilm/Disney did not have the trademark to “Razor Crest” in Europe, back in February 1978 a representative of US law firm Cooper, Epstein & Hurewitz had flagged that LEGO already had trademarked “land speeder” under the category of “toy space vehicle” in Europe.

While the tone of the letter makes it sound like the storm-in-a-tea-cup blew out quickly, this would have caused blood pressure problems for those involved. These days we’re used to a steady stream of Star Wars toys, but back in early 1978, the sum total of licensed merchandise was a tie-in comic book series, a few dozen puzzles, some posters, a set of trading cards, and a few re-purposed toys from other lines.

The ubiquitous action figures that children of the 70s grew up with were still nearly a year away, and the thought that one of the key toys in the Christmas catalogs was at risk would have been a serious setback.

While no direct connection can be made to a LEGO land speeder toy in 1978, the likelihood of it being related to the 1979 release of the (Classic) Space theme, which would have been in development at the time the issue was discovered, is very high.

It didn’t take much to resolve the problem though because in the mid-70s, largely because spin-off merchandising was a thing of the past – as explained in The Official Price Guide to Star Wars Memorabilia (Beckett, 2005) – licensing was a lot less complicated and registrations tended to be very broad.

In this situation all the parties – 20th Century Fox, LEGO, Kenner Products, and The Star Wars Inc., – agreed the land speeder name wasn’t a trademark infringement so they made the paperwork dance around any overlap. And unlike copyright, which basically covers all uses, trademarks can be very made to be as specific as required, and so long as Kenner only made a Star Wars land speeder and it wasn’t a construction toy the problem was moot.

For sure – one way or the other – the whole debate that there are too many land speeder sets in the LEGO Star Wars theme would have been nixed had an agreement not been reached.

It’s amusing to think that this topic would likely have come up when Lucasfilm licensing executives and LEGO representatives first met to discuss the LEGO theme that we now all know so well.

Entertainment Earth

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