Light Sabre or Laser Pointer?

Do designs for fictional products from movies have protection in the real world? The article linked is a Lucas cease and desist against a Hong Kong laser pointer manufacturer for similarity of design to “copyrighted” material from the films.

This seems like a stretch. Are there precedents for industrial designs in films being protected? The toy industry has an obvious link to film production in the money making scheme. I’m curious about the design rights. Can a robot manufacturer copy the design from “I, Robot”, for example, to make something real world? Are designs from movies separately protected from the media itself?

I was talking about this case with a budy just the other day…

In my opinion the issue should be something like defending a design patent vs a utility patent. If someone copies the exact visual design of a fictitious product from a movie, then you would, in effect, be violating the original creator’s copyright–much like copying the exact form of a competing product protected by a design patent. The product has a trade dress and it would confuse the public as to who’s product it is. So if this laser pointer’s housing design exactly (or pretty closely) matches Luca’s design from the movie, then I think Lucas might have a case.

But when it comes to the actual mechanical function of a fictional product, I think that would be completely different. If I were to, say, build a time machine that had something like a “flux capacitor” in it, I’m not too sure Robert Zemeckis would be able to sue me for that unless he filed for and received a utility patent for an actual flux capacitor and my design infringed on that patent. The utility patent has more “teeth”.

Or I could be completely talking out of my @ss

Is there a patent attorney in the house?


Influenced, I can see it. Copied look? No. Any flashlight company could have said the same thing to them as well.

Star Wars:

Wicked Laser’s:

But Lucasfilm is notorious for chasing down copycats. Ever noticed that little fine print at the bottom of every Verizon Droid commercial? Lucas must be making boat loads of money from that licensing deal.

For what it’s worth, the thing is completely illegal to sell in the US. I love how on the site they have a “FDA Legal!” icon that is just a link to their “thank you for submitting your application” letter. I just don’t think the Fed’s have figured out a way to ban them since they’re being shipped from Hong Kong, although a few weeks ago they weren’t shipping with the “training lens” which lowers the output by 80%

So the answer is it doesn’t matter if it infringes on your light saber Mr. Lucas, it’s illegal to sell this even if it looked like a metal rod.

Hopefully they’ll just ban this guy from importing anything in the US soon enough before some rednecks get a hold of this and start pointing them at airplanes again.

They’re good for light laser etching into plastics, some wood, and other soft materials. People have been modifying diode lasers for years, they’re easily salvaged from DVD players, etc. There’s some good hobbyist potentials with them, but a lot of teens and people w/little concerns of safety gets hold of them too that ruins the fun for serious hobbyists. Eventually I want to make a pump laser, diode lasers can only go so far before getting into anything serious.

Agreed on the point that as cool as strong laser pointers are, they should be banned as too dangerous.

Where I have a problem is the translation between media. A film to me is a film. If George Lucas has separate copyright fillings on each of his characters and industrial design representations in the physical world, it is a different issue. I would assume with his massive toy links that his organization has these in place as well. However, if that is not covered, I don’t immediately see the protection.

Example: Original Star Trek captains chairs. Covered under the original copyright for the tv series, or can a company make and sell them? Naturally the branding would be protected by the copyright, but the physical object? Seems to me like no. Link to NYTimes article about same. This is what “the official licensed version” moniker used to be about.

It seems like newer series legal departments would actually file the appropriate protections in order to guarantee licensing income, but I am speculating.


The Shanghai Print and Packaging Expo was on this week. One of the halls was filled with companies making laser cutting machines. Probably 40+ companies all making similar machines, cabinet table style, 1.5 meter by 1 meter working envelopes, 80 watt lasers, cut aluminum, wood, acrylic, engraving everything else. 3500 to 4000 USD! 1500-3000 hour laser lifetime, replacement lasers less than 300 USD.

I was surprised at how cheap this technology has become, at $3.75 per watt for a sealed CO2 tube laser, modifying diode lasers suddenly seems very expensive.

In an interesting chicken or the egg kind of way, a lot of those original movie props were hacked actual products (look closely at many of them and you will see an off the shelf part from something or other)… so could the original manufacturer sue the movie company?

I’m not a lawyer, so my opinion on this is purely speculative, but I would have to agree with Warren. Think of how many awesome concepts are mocked up in movies from HAL in 2001 to the interactive display in Minority report.

copyright requires “fixation”. The expression of an idea is copyrightable via it’s fixation, the idea itself is not. Therefore, fixing the expression of a laser pointer light saber via a cinematograph is copyrightable. However, the date of any plans or drawings, another form of fixation, of the laser pointer light saber would set the copyright date, not the cinematograph release date.

Copyright is somewhat transnational, signatories to the Berne convention accord mutual copyright protection.

Oh, and I’ll take “S-words” for $500

There was an interesting article in the last Innovation about design patent infringement. Someone dug up the product involved in a 1800’s supreme court case deciding how much of a design needs to be copied to be infringing. Good read.

If a product was developed trying to mimic an existing product but using their own R&D (different internal components, codings, etc), it’s not infringement. Say a teleporter is developed, a 2nd company a year later comes with their own version using a different technique; both does identical outcome but using 2 different methods. It’s just the nature of competition.

If a competitor copied the internals/coding to make theirs work then it would be infringement. 2nd company copies internals of original teleporter, etc…

But in the end lawyers can bend words that can make things difficult.

Back to the laser pointer, I wonder if Lucas is suing for the external aesthetics likeness or the general technological likeness? His lawyers reminds of of Volkwagen of America’s lawyers :imp:

What I don’t like about this is how it’s stifling the sharing of a culture. Like it or not (and George Lucas better like it, because it perpetuates his money machine of a franchise) Star Wars has become a significant part of the American culture and has become infused in many facets of it. If we want to create culturally relevant styling, in this case for a tech device, we have to draw upon the culture around us, which in this case includes Star Wars. I’m all for crazy new genre distorting mind blowing ideas, but there’s also something to be said for design that maintains a link to the society that created it and that society’s history. And every generation should be able to build upon the previous one, rather than be required to totally reinvent everything. It’s the same with music, or any other art form really. I can see going after someone for an overt attempt to create something that others would think was sanctioned or created by the Star Wars franchise, but this is just stifling culture and progress.

Also, a design patent only lasts 14 years. If Lucas wins this, does that mean the best way to protect a design is to stick it in a movie?

Lucasfilm retracted the lawsuit saying in part:

“The media and public has come to realize that Lucasfilm would never endorse or license a highly dangerous product such as your Arctic Pro Laser.”

An article here at CNet.

Sales tripled.

Interesting topic. The design patent issue itself is a pretty vague area. How similar, how indentical…what is an acceptable (but still unethical) workaround and what is a blatant copy?

That is the long standing gray area. From a fleeting movie 2D representation to a real world object it would be hard to argue exactly what the original was. Real world object to real world copy becomes more concrete, but still highly subjective. With modern digital scanning possibilities, I’m sure the savvy law firms are comparing originals and copies in true 3d in order to influence the outcome in court. Realistically however there is no saying what percentage of similarity there is or is not between similar objects. Although someone can always offer an opinion.

Also, in this case, all of the originals were based on flashlights with bits glued on… how about the original flashlight manufacturer’s rights? Also, there have been so many iterations over the 6 movies I would be think it would be difficult to protect?