On February 7th, Toronto, Ontario-based toy company Spin Master Ltd. filed a complaint for patent infringement against El Segundo, CA-based rival firm Alpha Group US over a series of transformable toys being sold by the American firm. This case, filed in the Central District of California, is similar to legal actions which Spin Master has filed against Alpha Group in the United Kingdom and Canada as well.
In the Central California case, Spin Master is asserting U.S. Patent No. 9868073, titled Transformable Toy and issued to Spin Master this January (see Fig. 7 of the patent to the top left). It claims a transformable toy having a toy body, an auxiliary component coupled to the body and rotatable towards the body to a rollable closed position or away from the body to an open position, an auxiliary component elastic element which biases the auxiliary component to the open position away from the body, a locking component including a latch and a keeper to retain the auxiliary component in the closed position and magnetically-responsive members associated with the locking component which disengage the latch from the keeper when the members are brought into the proximity of each other. The invention results in a magnetic-force-expansion style toy which is rollable and addresses design difficulties preventing such toys from being used in shooting games.
The technology covered by the ‘073 patent has been incorporated into the series of Bakugan rollable toys developed by Spin Master (see right) and released in 2007 in conjunction with the Japanese-Canadian anime adventure series Bakugan Battle Brawlers. According to Spin Master’s complaint, the Bakugan toy series has been a major success for the company, earning $1 billion in sales in just over a decade. Bakugan is a combination of the Japanese words for “to explode” (baku) and “sphere” (gan) and Spin Master’s toys were designed to be spherical, rollable toys which would “explode” into a character when the toy came into contact with a magnetic component. Spin Master’s toys remained popular through a number of Bakugan spin-off series and the company planned to reboot the toy brand for release along with a new anime series to be released in the 2019-20 time frame.
Spin Master’s allegations of patent infringement target the Screechers Wild! line of toys which Alpha Group has released in conjunction with an associated cartoon series available on YouTube. The Screechers Wild! toys are race car/machine hybrids which are transformable and are available across three levels of complexity. Both the transformable toys and the YouTube series were released in January of this year, according to Spin Master’s allegations.
According to the complaint, the entire Screechers Wild! series of toys likely infringe upon at least claim 1 of the ‘073 patent. As Spin Master notes, the toys developed by Alpha Group are transformable, use a vehicle toy body as the toy’s base and incorporate an auxiliary component which is rotatable towards the body into a closed position or away from the body into an open position, revealing a character form. In their closed position, the Screechers Wild! toys are rollable because of the toy’s vehicle wheels. Spin Master alleges that the spring mechanism which enables the auxiliary component to rotate away from or towards the body and biasing the auxiliary component away from the body constitutes an elastic element. The locking assembly of the Screechers Wild! toys include a keeper engaged with a latch and is associated with a magnetically-responsive member; this magnetically-responsive member is configured to disengage the keeper from the latch when a user brings a disc accessory into contact with the member. This construction, allegedly infringing claim 1 of the ‘073 patent, is incorporated into every toy in the Screechers Wild! Series.
Alpha Group’s alleged infringement has been conducted through a number of well-known retailers advertised on the Screechers Wild! website, including Walmart, Target, Amazon.com and Toys R Us. Each toy sold by the Alpha Group also comes with an instruction sheet providing step-by-step instructions on the operation of the toy. Despite Spin Master’s attempts to have a conversation with Alpha Group about the ‘073 patent, Alpha Group has continued to sell the allegedly infringing products. Spin Master is seeking a judgment that Alpha Group has infringed the ‘073 patent, that the infringement has been willful and damages no less than a reasonable royalty which is to be trebled for willfulness.