And you thought you were sooo original . . .


An interesting discussion is going on concerning Evolute’s patent on freeform surfaces in buildings consisting of planar quadrilateral or hexagonal faces. This isn’t a patent on the process to create them . . . it’s for the whole category of resulting built forms. Check out the summary of the patents here (and don’t be afraid to read the full patents too).

Also see these links:

What do you think? Look at the forms below, do they count? If there is math underlying the form, is it freeform? Have you made something that qualifies?

J. Gribl’s Hippo House, Berlin, with Schlaich Bergermann and Partner, 1996. While it looks organic, is this “freeform” ? It’s actually a “translational surface”, so I’m not sure if it qualifies.


Some Gehry . . . surely freeform, but not planar, just expensive.


Eladio Dieste, Church circa 1960. Nice and wiggly with many many flat quad faces. But actually they’re ruled surfaces, and there isn’t a support structure.


A patio in Massachusetts, circa 2005. Probably the closest example of freeform with planar quads, but again no support structure.


In the end it isn’t so much about proving pre-existing art (are there examples between 2000 and 2007 at least?) but is it CONCEPTUALY o.k. to patent built forms? Isn’t it more appropriate to patent the process that attains the geometry? But what if the inventor of the Television patented the process of creating the TV, rather than the outcome? And what is “freeform”? Are there any precedents for this specific kind of building pre-2000? 1990? 1900? Are we able to separate “CAN you patent that?” (which is a legal question) from “SHOULD you patent that?” (which is a philosophical question).

I don’t have the answers to this, my gut tells me something isn’t right with patent law . . . but I also don’t think the implications are obvious. What do you think?



  1. I could imagine glazing or curtain wall manufacturer, like Pilkington being allowed to patent the fastener and support system design. How would this be enforceable? It sounds to me like a small software company trying too hard to be relevant.

  2. freakonomics had a podcast not long ago that covered the whole issue of patents, wish i could find which one it was in specific. a rather interesting topic really!

  3. Wow I just came a across a few stories about how the patent wars are getting out of control and now it's hitting architecture. Here's one of the stories near at hand...

  4. The aspect of this that I cannot understand is how a software/service company thought it would be a good idea to coerce their clients into paying them a patent fee on hard costs... Seems to me like the beginnings of a completely avoidable PR nightmare for them... I want to know why they didn't just patent the software, the algorithm, or a particular detail (described in their response, though totally missing from the patent itself about a torsion free system). On top of it all, their responses to the comments are off base and defensive... all very strange, i'm thinking we're not getting the full picture here.

  5. You can't patent mathematics or abstract ideas (geometry or algorithms fall into this category)... Their claims say they are patenting a 'support structure' for 'freeform surfaces' in buildings.

    So here is the 'hat trick' they are pulling as I understand it: They are attaching the geometric idea (freeform geometry) to the APPLICATION of the idea (the nebulous 'support structure' in buildings).

    The patent claims focus on defining what the applicable 'support structure' IS in very broad terms (geometric terms, no less)... (chicken and/or egg, anyone?)

    So viola! the use of the 'freeform geometry' (as given in their their nebulous definition) is significantly limited in the domain of built structures. Sure you are free to design freeform things (whatever that means)... but if you build it, you owe them!

    Is this really enforceable? Given how pervasive so called 'freeform' shapes are in the design world these days, I would like to see them try...

  6. Freeform shapes are pervasive, but the actual panelization covered by the patent isn't. The brick examples are not continuous panelizations with coincident nodes but more like tangent-secant plane discretizations. As the post mentioned translational and rotational surfaces are considered prior art and are not covered in this patent. Finally, panelizations whose edges have twist or torsion are not covered under the patent either. Probably nearly every example which fits these three categories is based directly on their research or at one remove through tools (like Kangaroo) which are based on their research.
    I agree with you though about the 'hat trick'. It is problematic that the physical structure is defined with only geometric characteristics.

  7. Trevor,
    Of course, you are correct. Thank you for the more nuanced addendum to my over-simplified description of what the patent dubs 'freeform'.

    However, I would argue that those differentiating characteristics of the 'invention' (re: torsion free, coincident nodes, flat quads) are DISCOVERED attributes of the described GEOMETRY...

    They are not unique characteristics of the 'invented' support structure...

    again... 'hat trick'.

  8. you must mention hundertwasser here...