Earlier this month Universal Music Group and The Lego Group announced an exciting global partnership that will see Lego launch a new range of music based products.  The products, which are due for release in 2021, will be designed to support children's development and enable immersive and interactive play.

It is unclear at this time what the deal fully entails, however this adds to a number of recent collaborations amongst toy manufacturers and music groups who have recognised the lucrative opportunities such collaborations present.

Last year Hasbro (famous for My Little Pony, Mr Potato Head and Monopoly) purchased the Canadian multimedia company Entertainment One Ltd, boosting its portfolio with a library of video and audio content worth over $2 billion. As part of the transaction, Hasbro also acquired Death Row Records and Entertainment One Music which generated more than $30 million in revenue during the first quarter of 2019.

Jazwares, a leader in the production of musical instruments for children, also announced a collaboration with Sony Pictures Consumer Products as the master toy licensee for a new 3D computer animated musical film due for release later this year called Vivo, featuring songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The collaboration is fit to enhance Vivo's musical adventure and enhance engagement with its audience.

Whilst we are yet to see what type of musical toy products will be produced as a result of these collaborations, such toys can bring a variety of educational benefits. It is well-known that toys combined with musical elements stimulate and help sensory development in young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has reported research which shows that two hours per day of play with objects predicted changes in brain weight and efficiency. Moreover, a 2016 study at the University of Southern California's Brain and Creativity Institute found that "musical experiences in childhood can actually accelerate brain development, particularly in the areas of language acquisition and reading skills". Not only will these collaborations, therefore, see educational developments but they will also help bring characters to life and enhance the immersive experience. The Chief Marketing Officer of the LEGO Group, Julia Goldin, has said that the partnership with Universal Music Group will offer children "a whole new way to creatively express themselves by bringing to life music in their own world, their own way."

It is clear that such collaborations offer a wealth of cross-branding opportunities. However, it is important for companies to ensure they have the relevant rights to expand into potential new markets and have the right licensing structures in place.

Toy manufacturers should review their current trade mark portfolios to see whether additional filings are required to cover entertainment and animation services or other educational material, and conduct clearance searches where appropriate. Equally, entertainment and music groups should ensure that they have adequate coverage for merchandise and toys if their branding is to feature on the products or their packaging. Toy manufacturers and music groups will also need to ensure that appropriate licensing agreements are in place to fully utilise the cross branding opportunities and ensure that they retain some level of control over product quality and safety.

It is therefore important for companies to obtain specialist legal advice before filing any trade mark application to ensure it adequately covers the current and future expansion plans of the business, and draft licence agreements that adequately cover such activity. It will be interesting to see what products The Lego Group release next year as part of the collaboration with Universal Music Group which will perhaps set the trend for more children's toy manufacturers to follow.

Originally published 6 May 2020.

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