Friday, September 20, 2013

I call nitwit on this looming patent fight

A few years ago, it was those rubber band bracelets that came in different shapes: animals, dinosaurs, txt terms (OMG, BFF), alphabet…

I just checked to see if they were still around and found that they are indeed, and that there are a lot more “themes” out there. You can now get Barbie, Angry Birds,  Justin sillybandz_kardashianBieber and Kardashian packs. (They don’t call ‘em Silly Bandz for nothing.)

Then there were the bracelets made with colored threads. (I may even have a couple of those around here somewhere.)

But the new kit on the kids’ fad bracelet block is a loom for weaving rubber bands together and “a plastic C-shaped fastener [that] enables kids around the U.S. to connect loops of colored rubber bands to form bracelets,” that look like this:


Cool enough. Looks kind of like a less bulky, more wrist-friendly version of the gimp lanyards we made back in the day. And we handcrafted them without a loom or C-shaped fastener.

Not that we didn’t use looms.

Obviously, it was a lot easier to make a lumpy little potholder if you had a loom. Theoretically, you could make a potholder without a loom. But it would sure be a lot cruder and lumpier than the versions we made with a loom.

I suppose that the Knit-Wit was a sort of a loom, as well. As I recall, there were a couple of different versions of a Knit-Wit – which was pretty much a shape with pegs on it that wound yarn around to make things. There was one where you made some type of floret that you could put together to make scarves or, I suppose, if you were ambitious enough, an afghan.

Then there was this type, which was used to make yarn tubes used for what purpose I can’t quite remember. If you coiled enough of them, you could turn it into a yarn trivet, a chair pad, or a rag rug. Not that I ever did.

But whatever I made with a Knit-Wit, I did on my own, home-brewed version of it.

Crafty child that I was, I made my own Knit-Wit of the tubular variety by hammering a bunch of brads into a hollow cylindrical block (bright red – and thanks to whichever brother sacrificed this block in the interest of letting me make yarn tubes that were turned into nothing other than yarn tubes).

There was also something called a Doodle Loom, but I’m not quite sure what that was used for.

Anyway, trouble has reared its ugly head in contemporary loomville:

In August, the founder of three-year-old Rainbow Loom—a rubber-band jewelry-making kit that is a blockbuster seller this fall—sued rival Zenacon LLC, claiming it copied the "distinctive trade dress" of Rainbow Loom's "unique" C-shaped clips with its competing FunLoom product. (Source: WSJ.)

Admittedly, I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout birthin’ no invention, but it seems to me that there’s not a lot that’s unique about a C-clip, or the type of loom that lets you thread a bunch of rubber bands together. Not all that different than potholder looms or Knit-Wits, in the eye of this beholder.


Rainbow Loom's creator, Cheong Choon Ng , says he was angry enough to sue because FunLoom "works exactly the same as Rainbow Loom," and because he's responsible for creating a market for rubber-band craft-making.

"I made this famous," says Mr. Ng, who says he's sold more than 1.2 million Rainbow Loom kits so far. "I worked on it for three years and now everyone wants to come in."

Rainbow is also suing Toys ‘R’ Us for selling other rival looms. (For the time being, Rainbow only sells through Michaels.)

The FunLoomers aren’t buying it:

Steven Verona, whose company Zenacon makes FunLoom, denies the allegations. "Is a loom something new and novel? It isn't. It has been around for hundreds of years. Same as rubber bands," he says.

Plus Verona claims that both his C-clips and looms are superior. So there.

I’m sure that Mr. Ng is frustrated with the time he put into coming up with a fad toy, but this isn’t exactly a world-changing breakthrough like the Salk vaccine or the windshield wiper. Do we really think that this will even have the longevity of, say, the wiffle ball?

According to the WSJ, this is part of a looming problem that will only get worse as 3-D printing technology is more broadly adopted, and manufacturers will quickly be able to hop on the fad bandwagon, leaving the originator little time to capitalize on his inventiveness.

It’s also no doubt an outcropping of IP-palooza, in which people try to trademark/patent anything and everything where there may be a buck to be made. (Come on, was Pat Riley really the first person to coin the term Three-peat?)

See you in court!

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