I am just curious, whether an owner of an artistic depiction of non-yet-existent device has any rights on that device in case it's actually invented later? Can owner use their rights, if any, to issue cease & desist letters to inventors based on the fact that they were first to describe the thing, but not actually invent it?

By artistic depictions I mean pictures, books, games, movies etc. So, in an unlikely case somebody implements a device that visually operates with principles akin to what was depicted in fictional ASHPD device, can Valve actually pretend it's infringing their rights? Or, alternatively, if somebody implements dynamic environments consisting of robotic composable panels, can Valve say that they had described this earlier, so they have the priority?

And, as a side question — if somebody gets a patent on something non-yet-existant (e.g. "portal device") and gives vague description of a device that allows instant travel via connected portals, without giving any accent on how would it work — will this patent (being actually a work of fiction) be actually infringed later on actual invention?

  • In this case, is Valve a company that has created this portal gun in art?
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 23:33
  • @HDE226868 I assume so, but Valve is just as an example. If it weren't they, it would be somebody else, but question would be the same.
    – toriningen
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 23:48
  • 3
    Don't shoot it at the moon.
    – JesseTG
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 4:59
  • @HDE226868: Yes, Valve is a game development company and the fictional item in question is from the game "Portal": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal_%28video_game%29 I guess it might make a difference in copyright law whether the object is from a video game, a movie, or whatever other medium, but this case is a game. If it were also available as a toy (which wouldn't surprise me although I haven't checked) then I suppose Dawn's remark about copyright in 2D depictions of 3D objects would not apply were the inventor of the real gun to copy the appearance of the toy :-) Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 13:57

1 Answer 1


Copyright infringement requires copying.

The inventor could very reasonably invent a device without any reference or even knowledge of the artistic depiction in the Portal games. If the inventor hasn't copied anything, they aren't infringing copyright.

Also, with respect to 2d depictions of 3d objects, only architectural drawings are protected in that way: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_in_architecture_in_the_United_States

With respect to your patent question, Valve hasn't publicly disclosed how to make a Portal gun, so an inventor of a Portal gun would not be blocked from patenting it. You can't get a patent without describing how to actually make the invention.

  • 3
    sigh. Guess I'll just have to wait until 70 years after the original writers for Dr. Who have all died. If only there were a way I could speed up this process... HEY, WAIT! Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 3:59
  • 2
    "You can't get a patent without describing how to actually make the invention." - this didn't stop a huge number of perpetuum mobile and cold-fusion devices being patented although, of course, they don't work as described. This also begs the question: what if someone later does come up with a real and functioning device? Would the "inventor" of the non-working quack device have rights to it?
    – vsz
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 8:52
  • 1
    @vsz That would at least require the 'inventor' to have accidentally described the same implementation/process, which already is exceedingly unlikely.
    – Chieron
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 9:05
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    @vsz: if the holder of the first patent were to claim that the real and functioning device infringes their patent, then a court would have to decide among other things whether the patent (a) describes something that (b) is the same as the new device. For a crackpot patent you'd hope this would fall down at (a), since the patent won't describe the thing precisely enough to get to the point of figuring out whether the new device works the same way or not. Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 11:42
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    @SteveJessop Thanks to the vigilant efforts by Disney to continuously lobby for copyright reforms, there is an easy rule of thumb: Public domain is everything that's older than Mickey Mouse.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 11:53

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