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China’s Delivery Robots & Online Gaming Limitations: Implications For The Toy Business

Things affecting the toy business seem to keep on occurring in China with a frequency we don’t see in other countries. We’ve written at length about supply chain issues & the ridiculous price of container shipping right now. But this week there have been two more occurrences in China which may affect the toy business.

Chinese Tech Giant Alibaba Announces Increased Role In Delivery For Robots

Alibaba have announced that they will be rolling out 1,000 delivery robots in China to manage the final delivery of parcels bought via online shopping. This is important because China tends to be at or near the forefront of e-commerce and m-commerce. One of the primary drivers is the volume of Chinese people in China who are buying via e-commerce, with over 1 billion people shopping this way versus approximately 300 million people in India and c. 250m in the USA. Therefore, China is dealing with the largest challenges in terms of fulfilling a ridiculously high number of people ordering and needing delivery.

Bearing in mind how critical Amazon now is in major Western toy markets, what happens with e-commerce in China is likely to be adopted by Amazon in the West at some point if it proves to be successful. For sure there are many challenges of robots operating in urban environments and it can’t be easy to ensure hey drop off parcels in the right circumstances, but the future is here already as far as robot delivery is concerned.

When we think about some of the labour shortages affecting delivery services recently, robots could well offer part of the solution.

China Limits Online Gaming Time For Children

Big news coming out of China recently with reports that the government will limit online gaming time for under 18s to a maximum of three hours per week in a move aimed at reducing gaming addiction, poor eyesight and other social factors. This could be good news for the toy business, as those children who can’t spend time & money gaming as much as they would like may buy more toys or have more toys given to them. It I hard to estimate what positive impact this could have on toy sales, but it seems likely to offer a systemic boost going forward based on how long children will spend playing video games if left to their own devices!

We run a Consultancy business helping toy & games companies get ahead. For more information, check out

Our Managing Director, Steve Reece, works with a limited number of companies as a non-executive director, independent board director and as a board advised. If you are interested in finding out more about this, check out the link to our service above.

Trademarks, Patents and Legal Protection For Toys & Games – Practical, Commercial Insights

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: This article should in no way be taken as offering legal advice, neither the author (writing on a work for hire basis) nor the publisher intend or are even qualified to offer legal advice. We highly recommend anyone needing advice in this area to seek qualified, legal expert help. This article is intended to offer practical and commercial perspectives on how product creators can protect their work. Furthermore, not every area of legal protection mentioned in this article can be applied to every country, the law obviously varies from country to country – so take local expert legal advice where required. In short, you wouldn’t go to an automotive mechanic to fix you teeth would you – so please do more diligence on this topic than just reading this quick summary commentary! (Don’t you just love an article which starts with a full paragraph legal disclaimer!).

Anyone who has worked in the toy business for a while encounters some kind of IP (intellectual property) infringement or ‘me too’ product. It can be challenging to take effective steps in such circumstances. So, we’ll take a look at some of the standard legal protections you have available to you & discuss the practicality of these. Then we’ll look at more commercial/pragmatic solutions outside the remedies of the law.


Brands are a big thing in the toy & game business. Brands get sold for big money e.g. Mega Bloks $500m+ usd, Hit Entertainment’s portfolio of brands including Thomas the Tank Engine for $680m usd, Marvel Entertainment $4billion and of course Lucasfilm, owner of the Star Wars brand for $4billion.

What trademarks allow you to do in practical terms is to register proprietary ownership of a brand. That can be a text-based trademark i.e. the brand name, or a design trademark, the most obvious and iconic example of which would be the Nike swoosh logo.

If you have a registered trademark and another company launches a product featuring that trademark, then you have clear legal remedy i.e. if you take them to court you have an obvious claim. In reality any kind of legal action carries costs and risk, but a registered trademark gives you strong legal protection if you have the means and wherewithal to defend it.

Different countries or regions have separate trademark registration systems and processes, so it can take some paperwork and cost to register in multiple markets, but for instance, in the UK you can register a trademark for around £200 gbp, which is not a prohibitive amount for most companies.

PASSING OFF Passing off refers to a company trying to ‘pass off’ their products as those of a different brand they don’t own. For example, you may notice that in the toy market there are lots of blocks that look the same shape and look of Lego blocks. It could be argued in a court of law (& most probably has been argued at some point we guess) that these blocks are passing themselves off as Lego. But what these ‘me too’ products don’t do (at least not if they have any sense) is to add the Lego brand name to the products, because that would be both a trademark infringement and a clear example of passing off.


Patents protect technical invention (at least in theory). By outlining a clear technical innovation, the patent applicant can seek to obtain a patent which ensures their ownership and sole control and commercial usage of that innovation. The challenge, as with all things related to the law, is that practically speaking to enforce a patent is immensely costly, and therefore, within the realms of toys & games unlikely to be practically enforced by most companies.


There are some other protections and actions companies can take. The most practical of which is probably a ‘cease and desist’ letter. It should be quite obvious what that letter does, it instructs the alleged infringer to cease and desist their infringing. Practically speaking, in some blatant cases, where it is obvious a company is infringing the legal rights of another company, an aggressively worded cease and desist letter may be enough to stop the infringing. The cease-and-desist letter also pre-notifies the alleged infringer that legal action may be taken if they don’t stop, at which point in time, the alleged infringer could also become liable for damages and paying the legal costs of the other party.

Litigation may at some point become necessary (in which case, for heaven’s sake don’t rely on a free article on the internet, get qualified legal advice!). There are various strategies for approaching this which go way beyond our expertise but be prepared for a lengthy bitter battle which will put a lot of money at risk and take your time away from managing your business.

Sometimes, practically speaking, some degree of imitation in the marketplace is inevitable if you are successful. Sometime the best approach is to keep trying to develop the next big product and staying ahead of the competition.

Our Managing Director, Steve Reece has worked as a toys expert witness and a board games expert witness, for the Royal Courts of Justice in London and the Hong Kong courts. To find out more about this, just click here:

5 Key Features Of Successful New Toy Launches

Every year hundreds of thousands of new toys come to the market globally. The majority of these toys achieve an acceptable amount of sales, but comparatively few – probably as little as 5% or 10% achieve real success. Partly this is due to statistics, with so many new toys many will not achieve full distribution, and even fewer will achieve physical prominence in retail.

There are though 5 key features of most successful new toy product launches. None of these are likely to surprise – these are quite basic points, but they are so fundamental that we feel it is worth running through them:

  • Obvious & compelling product features

Children are not that complicated…unlike adults with all their social niceties, angst and complexity. Toys for children should therefore usually offer a very straightforward product concept/proposition which is clear, obvious and above all compelling. A classic example of this would be the Hatchimals Wow product from Spin Master, where the character has a large extending neck which extends to a very surprising extent – the clue is in the name ‘WOW’! Children find this type of WOW very compelling. If your product concept is very complicated and takes a lot of explaining the odds are that you won’t achieve success with it.

  • Packaging which showcases the best of the product

Packaging is the most fundamental marketing tool in selling toys & games. The bottom line is that anyone looking at your product will decide to buy or not based as much on the packaging as the product itself. Complicated packaging which fails to show what the product is about usually does not work. We recently worked on a project running a ‘post-mortem’ on why a major new product launch didn’t work. The reason for launch failure turned out to be the packaging. The product was basically cocooned in an artsy container which said nothing about the product or why a child may want the product (!).

  • Effective marketing to the right target market

Note that this is not necessarily about the biggest budget, because money is easily wasted in toy marketing. The critical success factor is effectiveness, how can you present the product to the most potentially interested consumers for the most efficient cost, with a message and product demonstration which is both compelling and clear?

  • Retail support

Not every product will achieve full mass market distribution, and sometimes that’s fine based on how niche the product and product category is. But without retail support, success is unlikely. One of the major risks toy companies face is developing and investing in products which don’t get picked up by retail. The bigger the company, the more likely it is that major product launches will be picked up, but every toy company can tell a story about a major retailer refusing to back a big new product launch and effectively killing the product in the process.

  • Effective merchandising

There are so many products on the market that trying to stand out from all the other brightly coloured and eye-catching toys can be very difficult. Aside from the joys of trying to rank online via complex algorithms, actively investing time, effort and marketing funds at the point of sale is a critical area of concern. From ‘Try Me’ features on products which need to be played with to close the sale, through to CDUs, FSDUs, video displays and more, this area typically yields much greater ROI on marketing investment by way of increased sell through than traditional broad blast marketing.

We run a Consultancy business helping toy & games companies get ahead. For more information, check out

Our Managing Director, Steve Reece, works with a limited number of companies as a non-executive director, independent board director and as a board advised. If you are interested in finding out more about this, check out the link to our service above.

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