Following Managing IP magazine's March cover story, which provided
practical advice on licensing a brand in China and other emerging
markets, Simon Crompton spoke to Andrea Ryder about the two sides of
licensing at Lego: inbound projects through Lego sets using other brands
(such as Star Wars) and outbound licensing of Lego-branded products
(such as books and clothing).
How would you describe Lego's brand licensing?
It is intended to merely support the main product. It is atypical in
that sense – we are not looking for brand extension, but merely to
supply other things that the Lego core consumer might like. We are not
Disney, we are not looking to merchandise the characters; everything has
to link back to the bricks and the building ethos of Lego.
How is licensing organised internally?
We have two departments, dealing with what we describe as outbound and inbound licensing. I work in outbound licensing.
Our biggest area is publishing, books and some magazines, which are
intended to be both fun and educational. We published around 120 last
year. They're popular with parents and create good associations for the
brand, plus playing with Lego is all about creating stories, so it's a
Lego is really a wordless way to tell stories. Have a look at our
Ninjago site for some examples of the thought that goes into these sets
What other outbound licensing is there?
Kids love to have T-shirts with their favourite characters, and we have a Lego watch that you can build yourself before wearing.
Do the inbound and outbound sides overlap?
Yes. Star Wars is our most successful inbound licence programme, for
example, but we also produced a Star Wars Visual Dictionary that used
the Lego figures, as an outbound project.
What kind of licensees do you work with to produce these products?
It is not the typical regional licensee or foreign manufacturer, who
will be looking to produce things for 20 or 30 different brands. We tend
to pick out companies that we want to work with in an area and let them
handle the production and marketing. So we produced that Visual
Dictionary with Dorling Kindersley, and we have one partner we work with
for the watches. The same for clothing too. Each is creating and
designing an individual product for us.
Does that mean you have to worry less about quality control?
Perhaps, but we still check everything thoroughly. We have an
approval team of eight people. They check each page of each book; they
check T-shirt designs through an online tool; and they check samples
that are provided, both pre-production and post-production, before
We are very careful at all these stages in order to protect the brand.
What is important in protecting the use of your intellectual property?
I happen to have a legal background, in fact I used to work in IP. I
joined Lego on secondment to cover someone's maternity leave and ended
Our trade mark protection has never been that broad – we haven't
tried to protect the Lego brand in that many categories. I think that is
conservatism on the part of the company, which is family-owned. We try
to find the right balance between adequate trade mark protection and an
aggressive, expansionist policy.
We always pursue direct trade mark conflicts though, such as someone
recently who was producing Lego brick-shaped sweets. We unfortunately
don't have a 3D trade mark for the Lego brick, so we tend to enforce
based on the logo or the word mark.
In terms of licensing, the legal team always makes it very clear what
rights the licensee has and makes sure they understand how that will be
reflected in production and marketing.
What do you spend most of your time doing?
It's largely administration and management of internal stakeholders –
making sure people are creating responsible products, making sure it
creates the right experience for the customer at the end. We follow the
whole value chain, through to retail.
That approach means we have been quite narrow in our licensing so
far. We work with a few partners and make sure it works perfectly. The
company as a whole is not that aggressive – we are family-owned, as I
mentioned. We don't sell in India, China or South America yet. My
husband always says we should be more expansionist but I think that's
one of the nice things about working at Lego. We are not listed, we are
not driven by the pursuit of profit. It's a nice place to be.