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Puzzles & Patents

I have the British Origami Society version of the latest puzzle-craze of a ring of sixteen right-angled triangles in front of me now. I bought it from BOS Supplies at the 30th anniversary conventionat York in September last year.When folded up, the triangles, which are made of white plastic, form a square of a double thickness, each layer having eight triangles.

On the face of the folded square is the British Origami Society symbol which is a blue flapping bird on a background of a terrestrial globe surrounded by the words "British Origami Sociey"..

When unfolded, the sixteen triangles form a simple untwisted ring, each triangle being attached to its neighbour along one of its shorter (non- hypotenuse) sides. The triangles accordingly alternate between pointing up and pointing down. The whole is mounted on a strip of stong fabric to which the triangles are glued and which acts boith as a link between the triangles and as a hinge where each triangle is joined to the next. Anyone could make such a puzzle by cutting out sixteen right-angled isosceles triangles and joining them togeter with sticky tape.

It is easy enough to begin with the square and to break it up to form the ring. The triangles may then be folded up again into a number of different patterns. The ultimate puzzle is to fit them together again to form the square, so that the BOS badge is correctly formed again. This can be a little tricky, but not particularly difficult, especially once you get the knack.

My version of the puzzle has no maker's name on it. It doesn't carry a copyright notice or a trademark or a mark as a registered design. I doesn't carry a registered tradmark, nor does it carry a patent number or a notice that a patent has been applied for. Apart from the BOS symbol, and as far as supply or manufacture is concerned, it is entirely anonymous. Possibly the former BOS Supplies Secretary may be able to throw more light upon where it came from.

I am positive that I have seen something like this before and that it is not a new invention. Unfortunately I cannot remember when or where. I may even have a similar device in the back of my cupboard where i jkeep my mechanical puzzles, but at the moment I simply haven't the courage to open that box of tricks.

Turning to the "Tiogami" version,and the types of protection which might be obtained or applied for, copyright obviously does not apply. Registration of the name "Triogami" only protects that name and not the device itself. A registered design does not seem to have been mentioned, but it is difficult to see any novelty of design that would qualify for registration.

A patent would be a different matter. So far there is only notice that a patent has been applied for and there is no information that it has been granted. Whether or not a patent is granted depends on the US Patent Office and any other patent offices to which application is made. Now, I hesitate to get involved in a discussionof the thorny subject of patent law. When I was in practice I was rarely involved with patent matters and if I was, I always sought the advice of a patent agent. The whole subject struck me as being tediously complicated and time-consuming and it involved searching through millions of previous patents to make sure that the device for which porotection was sought really was as a novelty. Now I am retired I know even less about the subject. But looking up one of the few small books I have on patents, it seems that , to qualify for a patent in the law of the UK, a device must be new and anything is not regarded as new "which has at any time before the priority date of the invention been made available to the public (whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere) by written or oral description, by use or in any other way." In simple terms, this means that even if nobody has ever before registered a patent for a wheel, no smart Alec could obtain a patent for one now on the ground that it had not been patented before. Imagine the the consternation if would couse if someone did manage to register a patent for the wheel and then started charging fees from eveyone using his patent!

But patent offices can do funny things. They can make mistakes and they can have wool pulled over their eyes if a patent application is wrapped up so well that it appears to make a device appear to be novel. I have a copy of a US patent for a simple paper-folded basket buried somewhere in my archives. The patentee was Marie J. Morse, who was awarded US Patent No. 2,066,849 foor a "Combined Napkin and Destructible Folding Basket". It is mentioned on page 189 of Sam Randlett's "The Art of Origami". This is a simple folded paper basket easily arrived a in the course of a little origami doodling. As I remember the specification, the description of how to make the basket was unbelievably long and convoluted and, in fact, a stern lesson to every drawer of origami diagrams as to what he should strenuously avoid. I cannot believe that Marie J. Morse was the first to invent her basket. What she did with her "Combined Napkin and Destructible Folding Basket" is not recorded. I doubt if she became a millionaire! Yet she won her patent.

Another thing must be pointed out. A patent is only good for the legal juridiction for which it is granted. Thus a US patent does not apply in the UK and vice versa. Accordingly commercial manufacturers have to spent unblievable sums applying for patents in every country where they hope to sell their invention. And they have to do it fast before anyone gets in before them. But efforts are being made to intoduce patents which apply internationally and patents are now granted, for instance, covering the whole of the the European Union.

In the light of this, I suggest that neither Triogami, nor Geoloop should qualify for a patent in respect of this little puzzle. But if the examiner at the US Patent Office is dozing at the time he examines it, one of them might just get one. Then the other company would be very cross. The thing to do is for someone who can prove his facts to write to the Patent Ofice pointing out that the device is not a novely. Perhaps the existence of the BOS model would be sufficient evidence..

Incidentally,I have just tried to get through to the http://www.webgames.com site, mentioned by Douglas Zander, but I couldn't get beyond the home page. Are they feverishly busy or are they asleep? Perhaps they're just busy doing the puzzle

David Lister Grimsby, England.

   
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