Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How I stole the Clug and why I don't feel bad about it

Okay, full disclosure, I do feel a little bad about it. But hopefully you'll see why I'm not beating myself up about it.

A friend pointed me to a kickstarter for a bike holder called the clug. It was a cool idea. But the reason it showed up on my radar is because they 3D printed the prototypes and if you backed at the lowest level they would send you the STL and you could just print it yourself. Distributed manufacturing, hoorah!

But by the time I heard about the Clug it was too late to get in on the kickstarter. So I went to their kickstarted website and saw options to buy the real things, shipped to me from Canada. And where there should have been an option to buy the 3D model there was only the message:

We're hard at work getting the 3D Files ready for sale.
And hard work it must be because it's said that for 6 months. So I reached out to them and found out they were having to play a legal game of CYA. A home printed doesn't go through the  same QA checks and what if it fails and damaged someone's bike? The answer is if course a paragraph of legal babble attached to the download that discharges their responsibility. But apparently that's hard work, or they've just got other things they'd rather do, because so far that's not happening.

At this point I guess I should have just bought 5 of them but, darn it I don't have a 3D printer so I can buy goods online and have them shipped to me. I'm living in the future here. So, I studied their images and video and figured out how the thing worked and what was the important parts, and modeled my own.

Aside, this isn't the first time a product was 3d printable and I said "I could do that" looking at nothing but pictures. That distinction goes to the square helper. But I really didn't want a square helper so I left that one alone.

So here's the head scratcher; did I steal their design? Without a doubt my design succeed, and succeed with my first try, because I had their failures to look at. I'm not a lawyer but I suspect there's nothing wrong with just looking at a thing and making your own based on what you see. I could probably even distribute or sell my design, though I'm planning on keeping this one to myself for now. Reverse engineering is a frustrating thing, but it's not illegal. And besides if the Clug folks had just sold me the STL like I wanted I would have had no reason to even try.

This, I think, is the moral of the story. 3D printing is ushering in a new world where design is rapid and manufacturing can be distributed, but it's also changing demand. The mantra of business has always been "give the people what they want". This story is just a glimpse. When 3D printers are in more homes and hands and people who won't keep their designs to themselves are copying every 3D printable doodad it will not be feasable to be in the business of selling doodads unless you're also ready to release the models that people want. That's a great thing for many people but a scary thing for a few.


  1. Do you have any plans to share this model?

    The idea is already patented in 1976 (long since expired):

    which is long expired so you have no fear of being sued. You effectively replicated that design.

    The Clug's claim to fame is the 2-piece system. The outer part that's mounted and the inner part that snaps in.


      Is the expired patent.

    2. Thats funny. Thanks for doing the legwork on this one for me. It's funny because I kinda decided that the two part system was really the way to go on this one, but I'll try something a little more like the patent and if it works better than the design I came up with here I'll upload it without fear.

    3. You can merge the two piece style design as one piece and then effectively the patent does not cover it.

    4. I was interested because I was curious to see how well this would work with PETG.

      PETG is much more rigid than PLA/ABS so in theory there should not be as much plastic fatigue with repeated use. It's also stronger.

    5. I may revisit this soon. Just moved so we'll need a place for the bikes. Don't know if I'll try to iterate their design so i can claim independence. That's skirting a little too close in my opinion. Why risk it when there's a perfectly good expired patent right there I copy.

    6. I agree, I wouldn't directly copy their design, but my point was perhaps there's some cross-bracing elements that can be added to your existing design to give better rigidity.

      Or perhaps vary the thickness of the walls over the curve.

      I don't know what was deficient about your existing design.

      The CLUG design isn't foolproof either. If you read a lot of complaints after 1 year people said their bikes fall off the wall due to plastic fatigue. They don't stay closed.

    7. I'll probably look at making something in OpenSCAD this weekend, so people can put in their tire dimensions and make custom-fit mounts.

      I've been meaning to clean up my garage. I'll see how it works but I'll probably try PETG when I do my e3d retrofit.


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