Cube Patents

Every once in a while, my hobby intersects with my profession. That was the case a year ago when I wrote about the controversy between Dayan and Seven Towns over the latter’s (largely exaggerated, I believe) position that it had a copyright/trade dress claim against any cube maker using the standard yellow-white/red-orange/blue-green color scheme. And it’s the case again now, with my recent project to decorate my new office. I figured that the lawyer who deals with patents by day and speedcubes in his free time might as well have some topical art.

I downloaded a variety of cube related patents, ranging from the very first related patent of which I’m aware (from the 60s), the Japanese magnetic 2×2 patent from the 70s, the Hungarian and US Rubik patents from the early 80s, the (in)famous Verdes V-Cube patents, and the (relatively) recent Dayan ones. In Photoshop, I assembled them into a composite with the abstract pages and key diagrams, had it printed at 24×36 by Kinkos (for $4.50), and framed it (via Aaron Brothers for $35). Voila! Legal-cube-nerd art:


Click on the thumbnail to expand. I’m not convinced there’s a high demand for this sort of thing, but, just in case, here are links for downloading it:

pdf (15MB) | png (16MB) | png (50% size – 6MB)

(Again, I doubt there’s interest, but I would just ask that no-one commercialize it, and that I get credited/linked-back if anyone uses it online.)

And if the composite file isn’t enough, here’s a video. A veritable multimedia smorgasbord!

(music: “Apache,” Incredible Bongo Band)

While this is topic is too big and technical to do justice in a short blog post, I thought a quick background on patents might be interesting. Our patent system was created by Congress, based on powers conferred to it by the Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8):

The Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

That simple sentence contains a very interesting and ironic conflict that the patent system tries to balance: It recognizes that a legal monopoly (“exclusive right”) is important to create economic incentives for creativity (“to promote the progress of science and useful arts”), but also that such rights must be “limited” if others are to be able to access and improve upon them. The exclusive rights under a utility patent naturally expire after 20 years (generally), at which time the teachings of that patent become part of the public domain. As much as V-Cube values and enforces its monopoly rights over its patented design, it was the expiration of the prior art (specifically, Rubik) that allowed Verdes to create an improved design that itself didn’t infringe. Indeed, it is the expiration of the Rubik patent rights that leaves Seven Towns (as the exclusive licensee of Rubik’s) with only its narrow trade dress/copyright claims related to its color scheme.

Crazybadcuber recently produced a very good video showing how hard it is to trace certain innovations. One comment I made on that video is worth repeating:

Patent rights are based on claims, not products. People often make the mistake of looking at a patented product and using that as a baseline for comparing against an allegedly infringing product. The claims (not the product, not the drawings) are the basis of protection.

The incredibly clever innovations in the Verdes patent (especially when it comes to higher order cubes) and features covered in the Dayan patents (apparently covering in China torpedoes, beveled cubie edges, and a smaller inner ring around the core), are together broad enough that they significantly affect the landscape for non-infringing improvements. But I also think that there is room for innovation in precise cubie and stem shapes and in the way edges, corners, and centers interact to prevent popping (as in Cyoubx’ excellent CX3 design, links to which I’m having trouble finding suddenly).

Take a look on Google Patents at some of the precise claims of some of the key patents in the composite. Lots of interesting stuff in there....


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