Jill Fehrenbacher

DESIGN FIGHT! - Who designed this lamp first?

by , 08/17/06

Chris Kabel, 1toTree Lamp, Branching Bulb Chandelier, Buro Fur Form, Next Design, Constantin Wortmann

Seems like there’s quite a row going on over at Reluct regarding this foxy branching-bulb chandelier design. Dutch designer Chris Kabel published the version on the left in 2002, calling it the 1toTree Lamp (so punny!). The design was nominated for the Rotterdam Design Prize in 2003 and is part of the Amsterdam City Museum of Modern Art collection. Understandably, Chris was none to happy to see a very similar design pop up last week on Reluct by German design company Buro Fur Form:


BuroFurForm, DNA Lamp

The lamps are undeniably similar, but the question is, did Buro Fur Form copy Kabel? Buro Fur Form claims the similarity of the design is just coincidence – and honestly I would not be surprised if this was the case. It’s an old cliché that there are no new ideas in design. I’ve seen it happen on several occasions where designers in totally different places come up with the same idea independently of each other. However you have to wonder in this case…especially considering how well known Kabel’s work is. Certainly raises some interesting issues around the intellectual property of general aesthetic ideas.

Check out Reluct to read the back and forth discussion between the two designers

For the record, I prefer Kabel’s design, because it’s funny and unexpected, using a familiar old product in a new way. It looks like regular lightbulbs gone bezerk – multiplying and sprouting like foliage. The Buro Fur Form version is a little too slick in my opinion. What do you think?

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8 Comments

  1. Stephen August 19, 2006 at 10:10 pm

    Then there is 2004, Joel Degermark for Moooi called the Clusterlamp. Version on the theme. I don’t think there are too many truly original ideas, just innovations on other ideas.

  2. Scott August 18, 2006 at 6:12 am

    Out of the 4 versions shown so far (1toTree, DNA, Irvin Harper and the we-make-money-not-art one) I have to say I prefer the we-make-money-not-art one the best. Has all the charm of the 1toTree and Irvin Harper ones and has the potential to benefit from the DNA sleekness. Maybe having the sockets alternate between black and white?

    If the scenario is as Chris Kabel states and the sketches he had submitted to one company were taken with an employee when he went to another company then I’d suspect that company would be required to compensate Chris Kabel and also sack the employee who took the sketches but of course proving anything and the amount likely to be won from such a case would probably not be worth it.

  3. George August 17, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    a notable legal distinction:

    expression, not idea, is subject of copyright protection

    encouraging improvement is a significant rationale underlying the grant of patent rights, however, in the copyright context, such improvement might constitute an infringing derivative work.

    it sems to me that in your example of 1 socket versus 3, the expression would be considered distinct so as to not invoke “substantial similarity” to the layperson.

  4. Jill Fehrenbacher Jill August 17, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    We’ve also been alerted to this image over on We-Make-Money-Not-Art, so clearly this lamp idea is floating around the zeitgeist:

  5. Jill Fehrenbacher Jill August 17, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    So obviously I’ve been out of town – apparently lots of bloggers have been talking about this design fight and I didn’t even know it!

    Core 77′s got the funniest summary of the Chinatown Defense – “the next meme to take over the spot soon to be vacated by Snakes on a Plane”:

    Chris Kabel:
    I recently visited your website and came on the item on next’s dna module lamp. It bears a striking resemblance to my 1totree lamp dating from 2002 that was exhibited and published worldwide. This is not a coincidence.

    A few years ago I was approached by a German lighting company about producing it. Unfortunately production costs were too high so it was blown off. But it turns out that an employee of this lighting company started working for next sometime after. Apparently he took the sketches and proposed it to his new boss. Off course his boss was delighted with the idea and decided to produce it. This is not the way to go obviously.

    Therefore I am are preparing a legal suit against this company.

    Constantin Wortmann:
    …To tell you the history of OUR dna: We have been to chinatown in manhattan in may 05 and found a double-socket for lamps. (see attached image: doublesocket.jpg >> by the way: designed in 1920…). This double socket was the “ignition” for the function and the lamp OBY, we did in the year 2000 for HABITAT, was our goal for the design language. After a while of working on it we realized, that it won’t work with regular sockets so we invented a totally new “snap-on” system for this modular lamp.

  6. jamille August 17, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    There is a lot of grey area in design ownership, especially as more and more designers with their fingers on the pulse, come up with similar ideas.
    I see my ideas allready brought to fruition all the time, or are they?
    Sometimes they are an improvement on what I was doing, sometimes there is no competition.
    But thats what designers do, we improve and interpret, as well as create.

    The best part is: Most people can recognize this design as something from the hardware store.
    I can remember screwing double ended light bulb sockets together when I was a kid.
    3 is an improvement, so is making the casing shiny and colorful.
    Sometimes your ideas are being stolen and sometimes there not, its hard to tell when there your ideas.

  7. George August 17, 2006 at 3:43 pm

    as both an aspiring IP attorney and a home-depot frequenting designer I’d simply remark that independant creation seems quite probable.

  8. Joel Pirela August 17, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    Sorry to brake the news to all the parties involved but I think this lamp was done a long time ago…. by Irvin Harper

    see link:
    http://www.metropolismag.com/images/images_0601/har/k_t.jpg

    More here (scroll ’til the end)
    http://www.metropolismag.com/html/content_0601/har/index.html

    Joel@Miami

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