Why is Evolute patenting geometry ?

31/08/2011 at 14:39
filed under Plugin developement

There is a very simple answer to this question: Evolute is NOT patenting geometry!

You may have heard about the two patents co-held by Evolute and RFR. There is a discussion swelling in the community about these patents, which we think is great: discussions keep us going. Before joining into the discussion, however, we kindly ask everyone who joins to inform oneself about the patents, for example by reading the infos we have put together on the Evolute website , but ideally by actually reading the patent texts themselves, because the patent texts present the most neutral information about the patents one can get. There are people on the web communicating their opinion about the patents without being properly informed about what is actually patented. For example people claim we patent geometry, which we are not. We are also not patenting software. And we definitely never ever trick our clients by selling them consulting or software which at the end suddenly has a hidden patent fee attached. We have never hidden any information about the patents. From the beginning, we have followed the path of open and transparent information:

1. We have put up an information page on our website about the patents in December 2010 as soon as we released the Planarization module of EvoluteTools for Rhino, which is pertaining to the patents.
2. We have made users of EvoluteTools for Rhino, including users of the freely available Trial version, aware of the patents by means of the End User License Agreement. The EULA has been available through our website since the release of EvoluteTools for Rhino.
3. We have asked other providers of Software that builds upon our geometric insights, and that can thus be used to produce results that might infringe the patent, to make their users aware of the patents. We did this not to prevent or “troll” competition but to follow our path of open and transparent information and to save users of any software from unwittingly producing patent infringing results. In our eyes, even without our reminder, it is the duty of any software provider to inform their users of the consequences of using their software. Unfortunately it is out of our hands to control whether the information that is passed on is correct or not.

This blog post is but one more channel to communicate openly about: What have we patented ? And why ? And how do the patents interact with our consulting work and software ? With this blog post we want to give you some informal insights into our work on complex geometry, which we love and cherish.

Which brings us to why we are co-holders of these patents:

During the recent years we have performed a significant amount of research in the young field of Architectural geometry. In fact, we are proud to say that we have been at the forefront of shaping this exciting field at the melting point of mathematical theory and hands on architectural practice. All our research is publicly available and we have participated in the foundation of a new conference “Advances in Architectural Geometry” with the sole purpose of bringing people together and advance the field in an open and collaborative spirit.

The main research legacy of Evolute in our eyes is a set of geometric insights to enable and understand complexity in architecture. We have shown what is possible and where the geometric limits lie. We have shown how a building geometry can be optimized for various practical requirements and desires. Some of these insights and optimizations have an immediate, extreme impact on the production cost, the buildability, and the aesthetics of a building. Some of these insights are extremely sought after by designers as well as constructors. And by “extreme” we mean there will be people saving or making tons of money by using our research results, they will and already do. We feel that it is our right to earn a reasonable portion of this money as our return on investment, because we invested a lot to produce research results everybody can now profit from and build upon. Therefore the patents are not about preventing anything, they are not about trolling anybody, they are about getting fair payment for our hard work and our dedication to save money and enable great architecture.

So the foremost reason for us to participate in these patents is to earn money with our technology. We do not co-hold these patents simply for marketing. We plan to convince many more customers in the future that they can save money and time and get a great solution by licensing our technology. We are selling and defending our patents and not just sitting on them to prevent competition.

An equally important reason to participate in the patents is to prevent others from blocking us to use our own inventions. Imagine such patents would have been filed by a facade specialist contractor who would not be interested in making the technology available to others through software, who would use it to prevent competition between contractors, and who would not openly publish any research results. This is not just a hypothetical statement, this is what happens with other inventions in the field. For results in architectural geometry, we believe that this would be the far worse path for the community.

So what are we patenting?

As said, technical info about the patent contents can be found here and nothing can replace the reading of the actual patent text, if you are really interested. In short, informal, and not legally binding terms (because for that we would have to reproduce the patent text), the patents cover the following:
- The first patent covers a freeform supporting structure (the physical entity, described through geometric properties) with planar elements for which we have shown in our research that it for example enables torsion free supporting beams. Torsion is a major cost-factor for most constructors since having support elements with torsion implies costly and tedious production. Also torsion can be an important aesthetic factor since a structure can look much more slick and elegant without torsion. Due to the high practical implications, covering a freeform structure with planar elements, including a cost effective way of construction, has been investigated by many and for a long time. Our geometric research and insights have enabled what many have sought after. Our solution is far from trivial (maybe it seems so now it is there) and has led to this patent. Not the geometry is patented but the physical architectural building solution. The patent also includes one specific method of determining the geometry of a support structure.
- The second patent covers a supporting structure (the physical entity, described through geometric properties) for freeform structures consisting of single curved panels. Being able to use single curved panels instead of the usually much more expensive double curved panels and still (re)produce a generally curved freeform impression has been the dream of practitioners since a long time. Our research has enabled this! Again not the geometry itself is patented but the actual physical solution.

Having read until here, it should be clear that the patents are NOT covering software or algorithms or geometry, i.e. we are NOT preventing anyone from designing or creating design tools based on our research. We patent real physical elements that possess specific nontrivial geometric properties, which enable a cost effective production and can also improve the aesthetic quality of a built structure.

And how does all this relate to Evolute’s consulting and software?

Working at the forefront of research, as well as with multiple contractors, manufacturers, engineers, and architects, we consider ourselves as top consultants when it comes to complex geometry architecture. Let it be design assist, optimization for cost and aesthetics, production data, modeling, or any other service related to complex geometry: Our clients value our services and software and save money by using them, or they save money for their own clients further down the value chain.

Architects and engineers may prefer using our software over using our services, or they might even use software or services by someone else who might have been inspired by our research. Certainly we do not aim to inhibit competition, and we won’t elaborate on the benefits our own software and consulting have to offer compared to others’ in this article, that is a topic on its own. When it comes to our patents, however, we reserve the right to claim a license fee at the point of the value chain were our patented technology is applied and money is saved, and you can be assured that the patent license fee will be insignificant and way beyond the savings the patent enabled. Again, we follow the path of open and transparent information, communicate early and openly about the patents no matter of whether you decide to use our software or our consulting, and we encourage everyone to get into contact with us in early stages of a project since this is the most efficient point to access our expertise. We will support you in turning your vision into reality, be it with solutions that are patented or not.

10 comments

RSS / trackback

respond

  1. Patenting Geometry « Digital Morphogenesis | Evolving architecture through computation

    on 31/08/2011 at 15:36

    [...] Evolute posted a response on their blog, claiming that they are not patent trolls. [...]

  2. anon

    on 31/08/2011 at 17:56

    “Not the geometry is patented but the physical architectural building solution.”

    I’m sorry, but for example using a principal curvature field to make torsion-free offset meshes I learnt after hearing AKT talk about it at a lecture series and then testing it out for myself using Microstation’s in built curvature methods.

    I didn’t learn this from Pottmann & Evolute thank you very much.

    Marching tetrahedrons anyone?

  3. alex

    on 31/08/2011 at 18:17

    Without disrespect for AKT, they probably learnt it from here: Paper about Conical Meshes

  4. anon

    on 31/08/2011 at 19:11

    Perhaps.

    Patenting tools that reveal such geometrical properties seems absolutely sensible – you’ve invested a lot in these and of course make money from it, not least because the optimization processes that have been developed are amazing!

    Patenting the geometry (I have read the patent) of torsion free offset meshes from freeform surfaces makes me sad however because these could be figured out by manual trial and error alone (a possibility for relatively simple projects) by someone not knowing anything about differential geometry. In such circumstances you would still have a right to claim money _because of the torsion-free geometry_ of the supporting structure which in my opinion is just not right… but you have the patents so there you go.

  5. designplaygrounds.com » Archive » Patenting Geometry

    on 01/09/2011 at 04:55

    [...] forum and instead sent private notes, Also important to mention this post has already generated a response from Evolute which I strongly suggest you to read so you can also have their point of view and make a better [...]

  6. Trevor Patt

    on 02/09/2011 at 14:27

    I’m still wrapping my head around the patenting of physical solutions but without any description of the physical properties. I’ve certainly made multiple “physical solutions” which come close to the geometric descriptions in the patent PCT/AT2007/000302. However, I would hardly call those two solutions identical in their physical solution (they do share an algorithm which generates the geometry, but then it is not patenting algorithms which we are discussing here only a categorization of results). This is what makes the language so weird to me. As an aside, in reply to Michael Eigensatz’ comment, I would also say that the math and code behind my algorithm was fairly trivial to construct (granted it is not so sophisticated as the Evolute methods, but again algorithms are not the object of the patent).

    A couple of questions I still have:
    The patent document states “support structure for free-form surfaces in buildings,” and later “curved bounding geometry in structures consisting of beam elements” which seems vague to me, does this only apply to external, weather-barrier envelopes? also to rainscreen envelopes? interior partitions? open-air, pavilions? If the panels themselves are structural without support beams is that not covered?

    “Free-form surfaces” is not qualified in the patent text in the same way as on the Evolute info page, which states “freeform surfaces (that is surfaces with complex geometry beyond translational or rotational surfaces).” In the patent text I read a description that “free-form surfaces… such as domes, or even more complex surface shapes” are used in construction, but no specification of what constitutes “free-form” under this patent. Presumably this kind of thing is not covered?

    It seems that in the physical realization, there are plenty of opportunities to slightly vary the specifics of construction (chamfering corners at the joints to make 8 or 12 sided polygons, staggering the planes somehow within the depth of the frame, adding a spanning piece over the joint such that the polygons are no longer directly adjacent, modifying the beams). Enforcing these patents against such maneuvering would almost certainly require ignoring the accidents of the built construction and completely focusing on the geometric abstraction. Presumably proving this would involve a subpoena of digital files used in the design (and not, for example, models reconstructed from as-built surveys, given the sometimes atrocious tolerances of construction). The physical solution is then only a trigger which sets off a legal process and not the object of dispute. How does this then not constitute a patenting of geometry?

    (note: sorry for the long post but I’m genuinely interested in the answers to these questions)

  7. shocked

    on 03/09/2011 at 02:15

    I’m shocked at your appeal to reason, or what you claim is reasonable. You are claiming that you have rights to a certain type of geometrical performance, which is ridiculous. The fact that no particular instances are mentioned, that you claim “all instances” resembling an entire classification of geometrical performance, is preposterous! Why not just patent the Pythagorean Theorem or the square! I’d love to hear what a judge has to say about this! You should have never been granted the patent to something as abstract as geometrical performance…why not “twisty shapes” or “pyramids”…ouch, the Egyptians got the patent on that one! No more pyramid shapes without paying Egypt!

  8. Patents, Precedents and Geometry « Space Symmetry Structure

    on 03/09/2011 at 11:29

    [...] Why is Evolute Patenting Geometry ? [...]

  9. steve

    on 04/09/2011 at 12:01

    I personally think you have set a very dangerous precedent.

    Your patent is very clearly ambiguous.

    Its not a Mero, Buckminster Fuller, Chuck Hoberman patent that clearly describes a connection detail such as a space truss node, deployable joint. Much like a USB or Firewire port on a computer.

    Your description of your patent describes free form geometry, supporting secondary structure and the like. Your patent has clearly been influenced by many earlier precedents described by students, hobbyists, and professionals. How much are you going to pay these passionate individuals?

    Free form geometry is in the public domain as much as the internet is.

    What I am so annoyed about is your crossing the boundary of contacting a hobbyist developer telling him to mention your patent for free form geometry when your success and profit has been based upon the hard work and passion of many earlier engineers; scientists, geometrists etc. Your claim to a patent wouldn’t exist for them. To me this is a patent troll.

    In addition, the person you contacted has an algorithm which find the geometry, it cannot be described before hand; in much the same way frei otto found the form of countless structures. May be you should pay Frei a portion of your patent?

    Also, a lot of these free form geopmetries occur naturally in Nature. Such as soap films, on which many algorithms are based on; I’m Sure EVolute uses it too, so maybe you should pay a percentage to Nature?

    Yes, you may have the ability to request that users who use YOUR s/w to construct a building should pay a % to you.

    BUT, to request that an individual hobbyist s/w maker, successful i might add, owes you something for “free form geometry” is outrageous.

  10. admin

    on 07/09/2011 at 12:15

    Trevor, thank you for your questions and comments, you will find more answers in the latest blog post about the patents: http://blog.evolute.at/?p=152