In 1969, Larry D. Nichols, a scientist at Moleculon Research Corp. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, invented a rotating cube puzzle. Dr. Arthur S. Obermayer, founder and President of Moleculon, saw potential in the 2 × 2 × 2 cube puzzle (later nicknamed “Nichols’ Cube”) and contacted several toy companies (including Ideal Toy Corp.) about licensing and producing the toy. Nichols, after assigning the patent to his employer, applied for a U.S. patent to cover the cube puzzle in 1970, and the U.S. Patent Office granted Moleculon the patent in 1972.
In the meantime, Hungarian architecture professor Ernõ Rubik conceived of a 3 × 3 × 3 rotating cube puzzle in 1974; he received a Hungarian patent on the puzzle one year later. Produced originally in Hungary as the “Magic Cube,” Rubik’s puzzle caught the attention of Ideal in 1979. Ideal bought the distribution rights to the Magic Cube and renamed it the “Rubik’s Cube” after its inventor. The puzzle launched at several international toy fairs in early 1980, sparking the multi-year, worldwide Rubik’s Cube craze. (Ideal later produced official derivatives of the 3 × 3 × 3 Rubik’s Cube, including the 2 × 2 × 2 Pocket Cube and the 4 × 4 × 4 Rubik’s Revenge.)
Moleculon learned about the Rubik’s Cube during the spring of 1981 and contacted Ideal about potential patent infringement regarding the puzzle. After negotiations between Moleculon and Ideal failed, Moleculon examined its legal options, convinced that its U.S. patent on Nichols’ Cube had been breached by the Rubik’s Cube. In May 1982, Moleculon filed a complaint for patent infringement against Ideal Toy Corp. in the Federal District Court in Wilmington, Delaware. Later that same year, CBS, Inc. acquired Ideal and inherited the Moleculon lawsuit.
The original patent infringement suit—referenced by Obermayer as the “Cube Suit” —transpired over the course of two years. In October 1984, the Federal District Court judge ruled a $60 million settlement in favor of Moleculon. CBS filed its first appeal in 1985; the Court of Appeals affirmed that the 2 × 2 × 2 Pocket Cube infringed upon Nichols’ patent, but overturned the judgment on the 3 × 3 × 3 Rubik’s Cube. CBS (unsuccessfully) petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari in 1986. Moleculon filed a final appeal against CBS in 1987, again claiming that the 3 × 3 × 3 Rubik’s Cube also infringed upon its cube patent, but the court did not agree.