Selling Borrowed Ideas?

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Forum topic by Firefighter posted 01-22-2011 08:14 PM 2083 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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96 posts in 2802 days

01-22-2011 08:14 PM

I have found a decorative display cabinet idea that I really like, but it is pretty unique and not mine. I am going to build one for my home, but I am wondering if I would be breaking any laws or treading on thin ice if I tried to sell them in the future. I found the idea on a local furniture shop’s website. Any ideas?

13 replies so far

View wseand's profile


2796 posts in 3070 days

#1 posted 01-22-2011 08:45 PM

Laws I have no idea, but morally you have to decide that for yourself. Maybe if you contacted them to see if they sold plans or didn’t mind you taking their idea. This has been discussed in some detail on this site. Do a search for “Intellectual Property” and see what others have said. I personally wouldn’t sell anything that someone else has spent their time really trying to make a piece unique, unless I had their permission. But, it can be a fuzzy grey line it really might not have been their idea at all. I would say use your best judgement, but be prepared for the consequences.

View nate22's profile


475 posts in 2903 days

#2 posted 01-26-2011 07:06 PM

If you like it then sit down someday when you have time and design one of your own. Change somethings on it and make it your own design. Add something on it to where if people look at it they know it is your work and your the only one that can make it that way. If you don’t want to do it that way then I would take wseand advice. Just a suggestion. Like me I take three or four ides from different things and make my own design and my own touch to it to make it my own. And people know it is my work and not someone elses.

-- Gracie's wooden signs. Middlebury, In.

View Puzzleman's profile


417 posts in 2972 days

#3 posted 01-26-2011 10:42 PM

I agree with nate22. Many times I see things and know that I can make it. In fact, I can can make it better, cheaper, quicker or whatever my difference is to what I saw.

Take a rocking chair. The basic idea is all the same but there are tons of differences large and small between all of them. That is what makes each one different. I am sure back in the day when the first rocker was made other people saw that first one and said they could make one but it would be better if I changed this one.

-- Jim Beachler, Chief Puzzler,

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3186 days

#4 posted 01-27-2011 01:21 AM

Intellectual property is protected by trademarks, copyrights, and patents.

But the problem with such intellectual property is that the right exists without formal registration by international law. Now, in those cases, proof of original ownership is often difficult to do without such registration, so such things might be fair game, unless the owner disputes it and can defend it. The questions are:

1.) Is it truly a unique, original idea?
2.) Does it have formal protection?
3.) Can protection otherwise be proven?
4.) Will the owner press the issue?

Ultimately, it’s not “against the law” unless ownership of the idea can be PROVEN it in a COURT of LAW.

That said, if you feel unsure about it, then you should take the high road and find out more about it from the source. More than likely, he got the idea from somewhere else anyway…but many would say that you have a moral responsibility to check it out for sure.

-- jay,

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3336 days

#5 posted 01-27-2011 01:26 AM

How many people are making copies of Greene & Greene furniture, mission style furniture and many other styles that are being sold every day. Is the work a unique and individually carfted piece or is it a mass produced item that is in stores everywhere?
I agree with the others…it is best to take the high road but you should put your creativeness into it and do something that will make it your’s and uniquely recognizable as your work.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3186 days

#6 posted 01-27-2011 01:56 AM

Right. Furniture has both form and function, but my opinion is that unless the form is truly unique – or so dominant that it’s truly “art” – then it’s not really intellectual property. If it’s truly “art,” that’s one thing, but if it’s artistic furniture, that might be something else entirely.

Most everything now-a-days is derivative. Chances are it’s no big deal…but if that’s the case, then you shouldn’t be afraid to ask.

-- jay,

View rogerw's profile


262 posts in 2717 days

#7 posted 01-28-2011 12:46 AM

I am not sure but isn’t that what norm abraham does. he goes to an antique store, takes some pictures and dimensions, goes home, makes up some plans, and makes it. I would imagine that stuff gets sold, but even if it don’t, he sells the plans for them which i would think would be just as much of an infringement without changing something.

I am in the process of designing a dollhouse for my daughters barbie dolls. the picture i saw was in a dollhouse catalog and for smaller dolls. I scaled it for barbies, link , changed a couple things in it, and plan on building it. I eventually plan on selling the plans. Don’t know if i’ll make my first million on it but i think i have changed enough to call it mine.

may the force be with you.

-- >> my shop teacher used to say "do the best at everything you make for your mom because you're going to see it for the rest of your life!" <<

View Stephen Mines's profile

Stephen Mines

226 posts in 2718 days

#8 posted 02-09-2011 01:05 AM

Take it a step further… what if you had umpteen orders for the display cabinet? Or if a showroom asked you to make a sample of your knock off of someones idea so they could take orders and have you produce them? That happened to me. The item was a carved seat, cabriole leg barstool made by a very highly regarded, venerable furniture maker who sold under the name Jean of Topanga , I was loath to rip off someones bread and butter proprietary product but boy, did I need the work. My solution was to call Jean of Topanga, introduce myself on the phone and asked if I could come out and meet him in person. He said sure come on out and gave me directions, deep in Topanga Canyon between the ocean and San Fernando Valley. When I met him I was a newbie of about 5 years in the business, and this guy had been around forever. His shop was a marvel of ingenuity and his personality was so personable I figured he probably could have been successful in whatever he did. We discussed business: he was utterly swamped with orders, I was against the ropes, behind in my shop rent. When I told him why I was there, he got a great laugh out of it. Then he said come over here to a back room. He threw me a barstool with a broken leg, then rumaged around until he came up with a seat pattern. He said take those and make some. He told me of how he came up with the idea, roughly what his sales had been and were, his price breaks for quantity, finishing tips, differences in counter height, bar stool height, high-bar height, table height. . .I left his place dizzy with knowledge of that product and his blessing to knock it off. I made a design change on the seat (added that lift in the front center that you see on tractor seats – his seat top front was flat) and was off and running. I visited him off and on for years…he was just a really great guy. When I totaled out my books in 1987 (when I stopped producing furniture) I was astonished to find I had sold over $260,000 (wholesale prices) of that barstool in about a 14 year run. Keep on truckin’ any way you want but you can’t go wrong weaving a bit of integrity into the rough and tumble of business. It will guarentee respect, maybe even success. Regards, Stephen

-- Stephen Mines (

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Blue Mountain Woods

110 posts in 2962 days

#9 posted 02-20-2011 10:16 PM

Ditto. All of it. Thanks for the post, Stephen.

-- Pete -----

View RickyD's profile


5 posts in 2708 days

#10 posted 02-20-2011 11:32 PM

That was a realy good story Stephen, and ture.. Such is life. What comes around, goes around.

-- ~ that's Me, Ricky D. ~ Lansing, Mi.

View woodsliver's profile


14 posts in 2679 days

#11 posted 02-22-2011 04:44 AM

I like what nate22 posted about making it your own. It never fails that I will sit down with some graph paper, start drawing from a picture and before you know it…it’s mine. I always add another little curve or cut out or inlay. Unless it’s a radical new direction in design, the style has probably been touched on at some point in time. Give it a tweek here and there…...

-- Now if some of my drawings could build themselves.....

View ScrapArt's profile


48 posts in 2719 days

#12 posted 02-28-2011 12:17 AM

I would like put this out there to get some feed back on specific Items. Since I am just starting and have not made or sold really anything (Except a Stick for the neighbor to lock her slider with. Added a Copper nail just for some pizazz) I have been kind of collecting Ideas in a Folder of things that I see on the web. Since I read this forum you guys have made me stop and and think about the ethics of this craft. I go on alot to get Ideas and see what the latest trends are. Take this link for example
, this fellow has made which I believe is a Cool concept in lighhting the skill level is such that I could make this early in my woodworking career. Maybe post it somewhere or display it at a show and make a Few Bucks. With an Item as abtract as this where is the line. anything I make will be Different … and where did he get his Idea, it looks like there is obvious cubism influence and this lamp is kinda reminicsent of the craft that the machines used at the end that movie where the little kid finds out he is not a little boy but a Robot. Not to slight this man but this lamp has been posted for three years and he has not sold any. To me If I take the pictures and try to build it exactly like his and try to use the same tile he has of the sun…. then Yes I am stealing his property. but if I take this and expand on it use other materials as well and sold some I believe I could live with myself. your thoughts please!!!!!

-- Please print this communication...Save Lumber jacks job

View Stephen Mines's profile

Stephen Mines

226 posts in 2718 days

#13 posted 02-28-2011 01:24 AM

ScrapArt, There is such a thing as a ‘design patent’, they may have gone to the trouble and expense of getting one. Contact the seller and inquire if you could buy, say, a dozen IDENTICAL units. If they tell you that each one is different (my guess!) you could probably skate along doing your own version…but my advice would be to make it your own…with a major design change maybe, or some kind of vast improvement. You just exercise the imagination, and poof! But before you go into it, try to do a little industrial sleuthing: has the item sold at all? Are they inundated with orders (or begging for sales). Has anyone else knocked the parts off, and if so, how’re their sales doing. You may find that this thing is a loss leader, perhaps meant to draw attention, overpriced, and intended to suck you into buying something else this outfit sells that has a very high profit margin. In a word, do some homework, legwork, googlework, call it industrial espionage and have some fun!...and maybe explore your own feelings about business ethics…you might feel a bit better turning on your own idea/lightbulb! And don’t just rely on opinions…like mine or anyone else’s, as the final hooha. Mark Twain said: You can’t rely on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. Good Luck! Stephen Mines

-- Stephen Mines (

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