Patents are densely written, nearly unreadable blends of technical and legal jargon. I love ’em. I’ve spent much of my working life developing a taste for these impenetrable documents and whilst those that I read at work aren’t tremendously relevant to the Geekdad audience, I thought I’d take a look at what some of our favorite toymakers are patenting.
For the uninitiated a patent protects an invention and prevents others from making copies of the invention, selling the invention, using or even importing the invention without permission. What makes something an invention? Patents can protect how something works, what it is made from, and how it is made. Exactly what can be the subject of a patent is quite complicated and can vary from country to country, so please don’t consider the above explanation to be authoritative or complete! Patents can be filed in almost every country in the world and afford protection only in that country. For example, if I have a UK patent for my invention, it doesn’t stop someone in the US from copying and profiting from my invention.
Everybody’s favorite building brick company, Lego has quite high patent activity. There was one recent one that caught my eye: US 2008/0228450, “Automatic Generation of Building Instructions for Building Element Models”. Catchy title eh?
For those of you that have had a play with the Lego Digital Designer this patent describes one of the elements of the program (I think – it’s not always obvious the commercial product a patent protects). The patent describes the process of creating the building instructions. Once you have built your model the program will deconstruct it, one brick at a time. Once the model is completely deconstructed it will reassemble it and in doing so generate the various sequential steps for outputting the instructions. Of course it is all a bit more complicated than I’ve made it sound and the patent discusses strategies for how best to deconstruct and construct the model by weighting the importance of various linkages.
If anyone ever fancied geeking out on the fine technical details of how something as clever as the Digital Designer works under the hood, then having a read at this patent is probably a good place to start.