The origin of the self-locking building bricks
Hilary Page was born in 1904 in Sanderstead, England. Along with several partners, Page decided to go into the toy business in 1932. In 1936, he began manufacturing Kiddicraft ‘Sensible’ toys using new injection moulding technology. Among them was an Interlocking Building Cube, for which he received a British patent in 1940.
After WW2, Page designed and produced the Kiddicraft Self-Locking Building Bricks. These were smaller, refined versions of the Interlocking Building Cube. Bricks could be stacked on each other and were held in place by studs on the top. The bricks also featured slits on their side that allowed panel-like doors, windows or cards to be inserted. He patented the basic design, a 2 X 4 studded brick, in 1947. This was later followed by patents for the side slits (1949) and the baseplate (1952), designs featured in exhibits at the Brighton Toy and Model Museum.
Example of a Kiddicraft set:
How Lego "stole" Kiddicraft's ideas and purged Page's name
Ole Kirk Christiansen and his son Godtfred became aware of the Kiddicraft brick after examining a sample, and possibly drawings, given to them by the British supplier of the first injection moulding machine they had purchased. Realising their potential, Ole modified the Kiddicraft brick and in 1949 marketed his own version, The Automatic Binding Brick.
Example of an Automatic Binding Brick set:
Automatic Binding Brick became Lego brick in 1953. So, basically, this means that Lego actually started off as a direct knock-off of Kiddicraft.
Separated from his wife, and with the stress of his business ventures, Page committed suicide in 1957. British Lego Ltd. was set up in late 1959 and the first sets were sold the following year. Lego eventually acquired the rights to Kiddicraft in 1981. In an out-of-court settlement, Lego paid £45,000 to the new owners of Page's company Hestair-Kiddicraft. It subsequently purged all references to Page and Kiddicraft from its published history.
The rise of the Chinese clone brands
Lego filed its first patent in 1958. Several other patents would follow. However, these patents had all expired in 1989. And ever since then, a number of companies have produced interlocking bricks nearly identical to (and compatible with) Lego bricks.
Especially in China, a wide range of brands have popped up, including (but not exclusive to) Banbao, Lele, Lepin, Kopf, XingBao, Englighten, Kazi, Gudi & Ausini. Some brands, like Lepin, blatantly copy LEGO sets in every detail, clearly enfringing European & American copyright law.
Most brands, however, produce their their own sets, with their own unique designs. This includes anything from medieval or city themed sets to complete modular buildings. Many of these brands also include themes Lego avoids, like WW2 or Vietnam era military themes.
Example of an Ausini set:
Example of a Kazi set:
In the AFOL community, I've noticed a great amount of hostility (even outright hate) against Chinese clone brands. Both companies producing such clone brands and the people buying them are often labeled anything from mildly immoral to pure evil, because they supposedly "steal" from Lego or the companies it licenses from.
However, considering Lego itself started out by blatantly copying the design of blocks that were parented by Kiddicraft & tried to hide these facts from its customers in decent decades, how does that make Lego any better? Is not Lego just as guilty of violating another company's IP? If "stealing" another company's IP is evil, does that not make Lego just as evil?
Why does Lego get a pass for copying another brand and thereby possibly even contributing to the suicide of the original creator? Why does Lego get a pass for trying to hide the history of self-locking building bricks prior to Lego?
Is it not utterly hypocritical to be so hostile against Chinese clone brands for cloning Lego designs while Lego would not have existed if it not were for doing the exact same thing with another brand?