Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property in Trikka

Parts are open, products can be closed.

All Trikka parts are open. Anyone can use them for anything including commercial activities without asking permission first. 

How can a system based on open parts work commercially for all actors involved? Luckily Trikka is not the first project to undertake this. You probably know LEGO® bricks. Did you know that they are open? Their patents expired a long time ago. Everyone can produce and sell these bricks and many cool companies do it. But the LEGO company remains the most valuable toy company in the world growing very fast. Why? Because sets built from open bricks are still closed.

These bricks are open ↓

These bricks are fully open. The original patents, published 1961, have expired. Everyone can make them and build a business around it. And many do. 

Sets built with them are closed ↓

Individual sets produced by companies can be closed/commercially monopolised using various intellectual property rights: 

Trademark: LEGO™ is a protected trademark. You can make the same bricks but not market them as “LEGO bricks”. LEGO makes also Star Wars™ sets. LEGO pays for the use of the Star Wars brands. The LEGO™ Star Wars™ X-Wing™ stacks 3 trademarks on to one product. 

Design Rights: The unique shape and appearance of a model built with bricks is potentially protectable with design rights. You made a cool spaceship using open bricks? Monopolize it with design rights. 

Copyright: The box art, product shots, instructions and product descriptions are protected by copyright. You can sell all the bricks to make a model from LEGO. But you can’t use LEGOs marketing pictures for it. 

Patents or Utility Models: If the model would do something new in terms of functionality – for example fly or generate electricity – this could be protected with a patent or utility model. This doesn’t make much sense for LEGO bricks but could make sense for products using Trikka parts when they introduce new functionalities. 

all of this works with Trikka products   

All intellectual property rights that close products are always welcome and supported in Trikka! Stack them on each other as you like. At the product level Trikka is no different from the usual design world. (Designers work with open parts in closed products all the time. They use phillips screws for example which are open.)  


Parts are open. How? 

To enable Trikka’s sustainable collaboration the parts must be free for anyone to use for any purpose without restrictions or complications. This means that when designers add new parts they need to make them open so that others can enjoy the same freedoms with the new part as the designer does with all the parts already available. This might happen in two ways: 

1. Off the shelf part: A design introduces a part to the Trikka catalog that is already in the market and was bought off the shelf. This is often the case with fasteners like nuts and bolts. Designers should opt for simple and common parts that have been on the market for a long time and for which protection has most likely expired (because it is in the market for more than 25 years). They get marked as “presumably prior art” when added to the Trikka catalog. It is “presumably” because we don’t expect the designer to check if it really is. We will double check. 

2. Own part: The very moment a designer makes a new part it counts as an “own part”. This means that it cannot be safely ruled out that the designer has a property right to this part. Even if it is very simple like a disk with a hole in the center. New parts create legal risks for anyone who wants to work with them commercially. The inventor could prohibit others from using it or even sue them if they used it. To avoid this and to reduce this risk for others the part must be made truly open and free. For this the designer waives away all rights to it by publishing it under the “Trikka Public Promise“. The Trikka Public Promise is basically a public license. It gives everyone in the world the right to work with the part without conditions or obligations to the designer of the part. The goal of the Trikka Public Promise is to give new parts the same freedoms parts have that are out for a long time and are in the public domain.

 Click here to read more about the “Trikka Public Promise” license. 

The Trikka Public Promise

The Trikka Public Promise (TPP) is a kind of public declaration. In it the designer declares that he or she will not apply for or claim any intellectual property rights to the part shared under the Trikka Public Promise. The Trikka Public Promise basically serves as a public licence.

What is a public licence? Let’s first understand what a regular licence is. 

A regular licence usually involves two parties. Disney owns the “Star Wars” brand. They make a licence agreement with LEGO allowing them to use the Star Wars brand on LEGO toys. In return Disney receives a share of the profits from the revenue generated with these sets. In short, a licence agreement is a contract where I grant another party rights to use my intellectual property under the conditions specified in the licence.

A public licence is a licence agreement with the whole world – with everyone on the planet at once. For this you put the licence next to your published work. In your public license you specify what others can do with the work – e.g. copy it, use it, remix it – and what you expect from them in return – e.g. attribution. Famous examples of public licenses are Open Source Software licenses or the Creative Commons licenses that creators use to enable others to creatively work their work. 

The Trikka Public Promise aims to work like that. In it, the designer guarantees to everyone in the world that he or she will never claim intellectual property rights to that work and will never try to limit what others can do with it. Everyone is given the opportunity to work freely with the part without any restrictions or conditions. The Trikka Public Promise is completely unconditional.

Why completely unconditional? Because any condition no matter how small makes it more difficult for others to use the part and creates legal risk. (Yes, even attribution is often difficult. Where to put it? If the licensor is not happy about the way I give attribution will I be sued?) All complications would slow down or prevent the use of Trikka parts at all. They need to be ruled out to make things simple. No conditions but freedom for everyone.

To say it even clearer: The Trikka Public Promise is there to protect the world from the designer of the part. So the world can enjoy the same freedoms with the new part as the designer enjoys with all the parts that are already in the catalogue. This is how Trikka aims to work. As a designer make sure you understand this and feel comfortable with it before you contribute.  


Btw. it goes without saying designers should not to the best of their knowledge copy/reinvent innovative parts that are available on the market and potentially closed.

Products can be closed. How?

As explained above in the example with LEGO: Products consisting of open parts can of course be closed. And Trikka encourages this. 

How to close it? Depending on the product and the situation there are different IP rights that can be considered for this. Whether a designer publishes on Trikka or somewhere else the questions and possibilities remain the same. Information about the different opportunities can be found everywhere on the web. Here is just a quick and incomplete summary to give you a starting point for your own research. 

Design Rights: Broadly speaking they protect how something looks. If you have a special shape or colour combination that is also new you can apply for design rights. In Trikka for example you could create a particularly iconic cabinet shape with Trikka parts or a special colour combination for existing Trikka parts and protect it. The Mifactori Backpack is an example for a protected design using Trikka parts.

Patents & Utility Models: They protect what something does or how it works. It is about functionality.  To get this protection your invention needs to be new! Where can this play a role for Trikka? Imagine someone makes a technical invention using Trikka parts. For example: One could imagine that the idea to combine the parts 012.1, 033.1 and 014.1 to a “sock dispenser” is protectable with a utility model. Socks from a dispenser on a wall is a new function – maybe

Trademarks: You can register a trademark easily. There are various ways to connect trademarks to physical objects. For example brand and product names can be registered as trademarks. “LEGO” and “Ninjago” are two registered trademarks of the LEGO Group. Fashion companies often print their brand names and logos on clothes. Why? Because patterns in fashion are hardly protectable. They are basically open from the start. Trademarks however are pretty easy to protect and enforce. So anyone can tailor a CUCCI shirt or jacket without any problem. But only GUCCI is allowed to print “GUCCI” on them. For Trikka this might be for example interesting when it comes to the quality of manufactured parts. Since Trikka parts are open they can be made by different companies. But if for example Vitra produces one of the parts in very good quality Vitra can also put their brand name on the part. From this customers can recognise that it is one of these fantastic parts from “Vitra”. LEGO bricks have the LEGO logo on the top of the studs. Bricks by other manufacturers can’t have the LEGO logo there. This enables a second hand market for “original LEGO” bricks.

LEGO logo on top of studs

Copyrights: Copyrights is mostly for artistic works like text, images or software. They usually cannot be used to protect three-dimensional objects. However, texts and images of all kinds are protected. So in Trikka pictures you take of your work are protected. You receive copyrights automatically. No one will be able to use your work unless you give them individual permission or put a public license – for example the CC0, CC-BY or CC-BY-SA license – next to it. 

All these intellectual property rights can be combined with Trikka. Open parts don’t prevent monopoly based businesses. However we also want to state that protection is not a must do. We also welcome full open source hardware products! 

Image Credits 

Lego Space – Set 6842 Shuttle Craft (7539329454).jpg, by InSapphoWeTrust, CC-BY-SA 2.0

Building Brick, CC0 

LEGO studs, CC0