Last week we wrote on how a Thingiverse user had submitted a set of pieces suitable for playing The Settlers of Catan game, and contemplated the legality of this move. Another view comes from website Public Knowledge, who have taken the time to analyze this a bit deeper. Their approach was to examine each of the methods of protecting ideas: Copyright, Patent and Trademark. What did they determine?
Copyright: They believe that copyright extends only to the images and logos used by the game. Since the Thingiverse objects don't include or attempt to include the images, they likely don't violate copyright. The object designs are effectively not copyrightable, since they are simply common shapes and would be considered "functional objects".
Patent: Patents are typically used to protect the rules of the game, rather than its components. In this case, the inventor did not patent the game, and even if he did, it would be expiring in 2015 anyway.
Trademark: A trademark protects only the icon or symbol of a product. In this case, the Thingiverse submission did not use in any way the trademark.
It then appears that the offending Thingiverse user is likely not offending at all. But if that's the case, then this opens up a pretty wide hole in the generation of intellectual property. We may see a lot more "functional objects" appearing in the future, and it's not sure how this may affect the inventors. In a comment on the Public Knowledge post, Joris Peels asks:
What would be a legal framework that would let Klaus make money from his idea? How could we balance Klaus’ rewards with the public’s right to access and remix information? In other words, what would a working intellectual property system look like if we built it today from the ground up?
We're wondering that too.
Via Public Knowledge