, who's known for doing quite a bit of 3-dimensional puzzle design
, alerts us to the news of eBay shutting down a bunch of auctions
over some Dayan Guhong and Lingyun puzzles. The Dayan Guhong and Lingyun puzzles are, basically, quite similar to the traditional Rubik's Cube, but designed to work a bit easier. You can see a video explaining the Guhong
, which shows how it's faster than a traditional Rubik's cube.
Now, there are two separate, but equally interesting points of discussion here. The first is that eBay is apparently getting into the patent enforcement business. This case involved the use of eBay's Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) Program, which is usually used by trademark
owners to get counterfeits and such removed from eBay. I was unaware of it being used over patents until this case, and that's a lot more troubling. A trademark claim is a lot easier (though, still not perfectly easy in many cases) to judge. A patent claim is a lot
more difficult. Is eBay really claiming to be able to determine if a product on eBay infringes on someone else's patent? And then is willing to kill auctions because of it? Furthermore, if the patent holder is really upset, shouldn't it be going after those who are actually selling the cubes in question, rather than having eBay get in the middle?
The other issue is that there's even a patent for this at all. The patent in question, 7,600,756
, is somewhat well known in puzzle circles, in that it covers similar cube puzzles that go beyond the traditional Rubik's 3x3x3 all the way up to 11x11x11. Even if you believe that everything from 4x4x4 to 11x11x11 are unique and patentable, it does seem to be a bit of a stretch to claim that the 3x3x3 is patentable. There are some differences in how the patent holder, Panayotis Verdes, designed his 3x3x3 from the original Rubik's, but it was a design innovation (making certain parts spherical instead of cylindrical) that many
toy puzzle designers came up with independently at about the same time (which would suggest "obviousness" and thus make it not patentable). Related to all of that, the company holding this patent, V-Cube, is not even making a 3x3x3
, though it is making a variety of other cubes. So it's basically trying to kill off the sales of the standard 3x3x3 cubes, even though they don't compete with V-Cube.
Of course, the history of Rubik's Cube is full of patent battles
as well. It all kind of makes you wonder, what's wrong with just letting puzzle makers come up with cool puzzles and then letting them compete in the market?