Cambridge firm seeks $60m in Rubik's Cube suit
By Christy George
Special to The [Boston] Globe [5/27/82]
Moleculon Research Corp., a Cambridge chemical, research and
development firm, yesterday filed a $60 million patent infringement
lawsuit against the Delaware-based Ideal Toy Corp., which manufactures
and markets the highly-lucrative puzzle known as Rubik's Cube.
Moleculon holds a 1972 US patent for a similar mathematical cube
puzzle invented by Dr. Larry Nichols of Moleculon.
The prototype of the Nichols Cube is a 2x2x2 cube held together by
magnets, while the original Rubik's Cube is a 3x3x3 cube held together
mechanically. However, the 1972 Moleculon patent also lists
specifications for a mechanically-constructed cube as well for cubes of
other varying sizes. Ideal has no US patent for Rubik's Cube, although
its inventor, Erno Rubik, was issued a Hungarian patent in 1978.
In its complaint, Moleculon alleges that Ideal "willfully and
maliciously" continued to manufacture and sell Rubik's Cube despite
having been notified a year ago that Moleculon holds the only valid US
patent on the invention.
According to Moleculon's president, Dr. Arthur Obermayer, the
Cambridge firm unsuccessfully tried to interest Ideal in its cube puzzle
in 1969. In 1970, the firm applied for a patent at the suggestion of
other national toy manufacturers, who also were uninterested in
marketing the puzzle.
Lawyers for Ideal would not comment on the pending suit because, they
said, they have not yet received the complaint. But Ideal's general
counsel, Samuel Cohen, dismissed the notion that Ideal might have stolen
the idea from Moleculon. "It's ridiculous on its face," Cohen said,
"we're paying heavy sums to the Hungarians for use of their patent. It
would be stupid to do that if we had it in our pocket all the time."
Obermayer says the company didn't realize how similar Rubik's Cube was
to the Nichols Cube until the phenomenal success of the product began to
make headlines. Rubik's Cube was first marketed worldwide in 1980.
Because of the puzzle's complexity, inventor Nichols wasn't surprised
that toy firms were unimpressed.
"I'm delighted people enjoy solving the puzzle," Nichols said, "but
I'm also frustrated that neither I nor Moleculon has seen any financial
reward all these years."
Obermayer is confident of success in the lawsuit, citing the fact that
three prominent patent law firms have agreed to collaborate on
Moleculon's behalf on a contingency basis.
Moleculon is asking for $20 million in estimated lost royalties and
$40 million in damages, as well as interest on other costs. Even more
could be at stake in terms of future royalties.
According to an article in Newsweek magazine last month, annual world
sales for the basic 3x3x3 Rubik's Cube, which retails for between $7 and
$8 in the Boston area, have exceeded the $30 million mark. And the
company also markets a range of spin-off products, including cubes in
three other sizes and types, a Rubik's Cube solution booklet, a Rubik's
Cube world globe and a Rubik's Cube board game.
"Sales are just incredible," said Carol Monica, owner of the Cambridge
store, The Games People Play. Monica said she already has sold more
than a hundred of Ideal's latest spinoff, a 4x4x4 verison of Rubik's
Cube which costs $16 and went on the market only three weeks ago.
Ironically, in an action pending before the International Trade
Commission, Ideal claims it is besieged by countless "knockoffs" of
Rubik's Cube by unscrupulous foreign competitors. The Delaware company
is asking the commission to squelch international imports of similar