It is not uncommon for designers of new products to claim full originality of their work, in particular for the “wow” feature of their design - the one feature that makes us say WOW!. Having both a product-design and patent background, I sometimes search patents to find out if these wow features of newly unveiled products are indeed new. I have several examples that show they are not. I offer two examples here for discussion ( I may offer some other examples later that are directed to the Dyson vacuum and some of the product ideas of MUJI’s three design competitions).
The above clock was introduced by a Dutch designer - Sander Mulder back in July 2009 or so (ignore the chair). In blogs and in interviews, he effectively claims to have invented the concept of using the offset hand arrangement to tell time as an always-changing sculpture - clearly this is the main feature of his design and it is what gives the clock its “wow”.
However, the patent (below) shows the same concept to tell time and is dated 20 years earlier (1989). Yet this is not mentioned by the designer nor in any of the reviews of Mr. Mulder’s clock.
This is likely because no one knew of Scott Sullivan’s patent or the clocks of the same design he sold in the early 1990’s.
Here is another example, not to pick on Sander, but since I have his website open…
His other clock idea (shown below) is one that includes a conical housing having an internal clocking mechanism that is attached to a counterweight. As time passes, the internal weight effectively moves and causes the housing and the entire clock to roll along the surface. He also adds a cool way of telling time by providing fun vague wording along the periphery of the housing. In my view, there are two wow features here: 1) Clock rolls along surface to tell time, and 2) fun vague wording replaces numbers.
Unfortunately, as shown in the below patent issued to “Herron”, the concept of using the internal weight and clocking mechanism to roll the housing along a surface to tell time is old. But sadly Mr. Herron’s creative input remains submerged and the reviewers of Mr. Mulder’s clock essentially identified Sander as the “true” inventor of the concept. Even the cone shaped housing (albeit not “cuspy”) used by Mulder is shown in the Herron patent (on another page). The other wow feature of Sander’s clock, the wording used along the edge appears to be original.
“Improvement and Interpretation”: I DO understand that there is always room for improvement of an old idea and also that credit should be given to designers who offer a new interpretation of an otherwise old design or feature-concept, but I’m a bit bothered when the “wow” feature of new product is shown in the prior art and no mention of the earlier work is offered by either the designer or the reviewers of the new design. I’m further bothered when the designer boldly claims full novelty for his or her product and all its features, apparently without being aware of the creative work of the past.
Thoughts for Discussion
Shouldn’t we product designers follow the same path as do authors of books, dividing up credit with references linked to their work (when we know of past work)? Can you imagine what the literary world would do to an author who began his new work with: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”… and then when challenged just claimed that Dickens’ brilliant wording was just an inspiration and that his new work “should be taken as a whole”.
Should designers be more careful when they claim originality for a new design concept?
Should the reviewers of such new products be more careful when effectively crediting a designer as the inventor of the main feature of his or her new product?
Should we ignore the creative works of the past when assigning credit?