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More than Original Designs

Twilight Sparkle (2014)
by Nikita Krutov
Sandstone, 3D-printed
6.13 x 2.22 x 4.97 cm

Pirated products are often mocked at for how they fail to replicate an original design. This figurine of My Little Pony’s Twilight Sparkle proves otherwise―even exceeding the original toy made by Hasbro, the intellectual property owner of this popular children animation series. Dissatisfied with Hasbro’s toys, which have not been updated alongside a new version of the series, designer Krutov used 3D printing technology to craft this version that more closely resembles the show’s lead character and put it up for sale without seeking Hasbro’s permission. Such “fan art” is just one example of how digital fabrication is enabling anyone to interact with design in new ways that challenge traditional ideas of intellectual property.

Better than the Real Thing

Bugaboo Gen 1 Brake Lever Button (2014)
by Stephen Faulkner (Bugaboo Repair Guy)
Polished gold steel, 3D-printed
2.6 x 2.48 x 2.22 cm

When New Zealand-based engineer Stephen Faulkner learnt how expensive and inconvenient it was to repair his faulty baby stroller by Dutch manufacturer Bugaboo, he decided to fix it himself. Faulkner didn’t stop there. He shared his experience online and began designing and selling 3D printed spare parts he claims are better designed and more affordable than what the Bugaboo offers. Faulkner — better known on his Facebook community over over 3,000 fans as the “Bugaboo Repair Guy” — may well have infringed on Bugaboo’s intellectual property, but his use of digital fabrication technology is also an ingenious way of widening access to repair services and discouraging a throwaway culture.

iPod (2001)
by Apple Computer Inc.
Polycarbonate plastic and stainless steel
10.21 x 6.17 x 1.98 cm

It’s widely known that Apple’s contemporary products look similar to what German industrial designer Dieter Rams did for Braun decades ago. Yet, instead of calling Apple a pirate and their designs copies, others have described as a “homage” or “a great evolution” in design. The challenge in pinpointing a product as pirated is because piracy is not inherent in a design but its context matters too. In some cultures, intellectual property and piracy is foreign — and so copying is seen as fine. There is also a dimension of power as “piracy” is a label given out to competitors or can be harnessed for publicity too. When Swiss railway operator SBB discovered its trademarked station clock design had been copied by Apple for its new iPad in 2012, the company wasn’t too unhappy and said: “SBB isn’t hurt, but proud that this icon of watch design is being used by a globally active and successful business.”


Keurig 2.0® DRM “Freedom Clip” (2015)
by The Rogers Family Company
2.6 x 3.2 x 1.3 cm

One of the many features beverage company Keurig introduced in its new Keurig 2.0® coffee brewer was a lockout technology to ensure the machine works only with Keurig’s new pod designs. This outraged Keurig’s competitors who were selling third-party pods after the patents for the company’s early brewers had expired. The new machine was seen as an attempt to monopolize the now lucrative single-serving coffee pods market. In response, rival pod manufacturer The Rogers Family Company began freely distributing a specially-designed “Freedom Clip” to circumvent Keurig’s lock and give consumers the freedom to use any pod — including those it sold. While intellectual property gives designers and manufacturers a time-limited monopoly as an inventive to innovate, it can also lock out another force for innovation: competition.


Case Study Fiberglass Shell Chair (1999)
by Modernica
Fiberglass Shell, Chrome-plated steel
45.72 x 63.5 x 45.72 cm (Chair), 43.18 x 48.26 x 43.18 cm (Eiffel stand)

It is fabricated in the same way that thousands have been made since 1950, using the same machines specially built for its assembly. But this fiberglass chair manufactured by furniture company Modernica is not an “authentic” Eames Shell Chair — at least, in the eyes of its rival Herman Miller, which first mass-produced this design for the late American designers Charles and Ray Eames. Herman Miller claims its “Authentic Eames Moulded Plastic Chair” is the original even though it is manufactured today in an entirely different process — which is more environmentally sound — than when the designers were alive over a decade ago. Unlike art where originality and authenticity can be traced to a single work, designs are mass manufactured products that allow different manufacturers to lay claim to selling “original” and “authentic” products. While Modernica claims authenticity through how its chairs are manufactured, Herman Miller depends on the endorsement of the Eames Office, a foundation set up by the designers’ children, and ownership of the trademark “Eames” that allows only the company to identify its product as such. As Charles Eames himself once said, “The details are not details; they make the product.” In this case, the products are originality and authenticity.