25 June 2013

Creative Barcode could have shut down the plagiarism claim between USA design studio Atopia and London 2012 Olympic Cauldron designer Thomas Heatherwick

As reported by UK online publication Design Week, Thomas Heatherwick’s Olympic Cauldron was subject to accusations of copying from New York Studio, Atopia which were swiftly dismissed by Heatherwick and opening ceremony director Danny Boyle, as ‘ludicrous’. The acusations of copying have this week been denied by Atopia in place of simply raising the issues regards how ideas are transmitted and managed by large client companies in the digital age

Original stories Guardian on June 20th Here in Design Week June 20th, 2013 and here in Design Week 25th June 2013



New York studio Atopia alleged plagiarism claims against Heatherwick and Boyle first emerged after the Guardian reported its claims that back in 2007 it had designed a structure of objects on tall stems – strikingly similar to Heatherwick’s Cauldron – which were  submitted to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games.

Heatherwick fervently dismissed that neither he nor the London Olympics’ Organising committee (LOCOG) had seen any pre-existing idea, a suggestion he dismissed as ‘ludicrous’.

This week Atopia sought to defuse the row, stating in Design Week ‘We have never accused Thomas Heatherwick of plagiarism [and] we have never claimed to be designers of the Cauldron.’

The real focus of the issues are of keen interest to the UK design and innovation team responsible for the creation of the digital Intellectual Property system Creative Barcode as it was developed to address the very issue Atopia says it actually intended to focus on. That issue is how ideas transmit through large organisations and how they are managed and the Creators’ interests protected.

Atopia chief executive Jane Harrison says the consultancy did not show images of its concept in its presentation to Locog, only the script, which focused on the concept of constructing a pavilion from ‘umbrellas’ carried into the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony by a representative of each participating team.

She told Design Week, ‘This is not about images this is about the power of a script that was protected by an NDA.’ She says the concept was presented to Locog in 2008 and was ‘well known’ to Locog leadership from then on.

What Harrison is acknowledging is that ideas addressing the same brief can at times result in similar ideas and similar solutions being presented to the client. So how do large organisations ensure the integrity, originality and provenance is preserved in such a way as to avoid claims of plagiarism or copying or even direct rip-off arising?

This issue has always been a concern for the decades the free pitch has existed and is not helped by the traditional IP systems that do not enable ‘ideas’ alone to be protected. Many believe that all ideas should be free until they have been commercialised.

And there are some good reasons for non-protection of ideas such as restrictions to innovation process if not implemented, monopolies emerging and natural similarities arising.

However, in the commercial creative industries sector ideas tend to go way beyond notional thoughts and more often than not are based on deep knowledge, design thinking and years of experience.

In the digital age knowledge, idea transmission and sharing has become faster and easier and thereby given rise to greater fears of misappropriation of works whether intended or accidental, than ever before. This is a particular concern during pitches, tenders and open innovation challenges.

These are some of the key issues the designers of the Creative Barcode digital IP system addressed using time-stamped QR code technologies to attribute the original source and to follow the design and innovation journey from concept to completion. Added to the barcode generator is a safe IP disclosure, file transfer facility where a Trust Charter agreement is accepted before files can be downloaded. It forms an agreement between the disclosing party [the Creator] and the recipient party [the client or other third party]

The parties are both co-joined in the trust agreement where the Creator legally warrants to the third party that the barcoded works are original and theirs to disclose and the recipient party warrants not to use or to cause others to use any of the works without the Creators permission.  The Barcodes their provenance and attribution remain visible throughout all stages of development and iterations. They are identifiers displaying metadata and linking to additional Metadata which remain attached to work wherever it travels. It is illegal to remove them.  

Since launch in 2010 and with users in over 29 Countries the Creative Barcode system has never been breached. Additionally Creative Barcode is endorsed by and its users supported by World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) mediation services.

Client organisations and other third parties receiving creative submissions could utilise Creative Barcode as part of their pitch, procurement and challenge processes in order to protect all parties’ interests. When claims arise whether they turn out to be right or wrong, they have to be responded to. Often this can involve weeks of time, angst and costs and often result in soured relationships or worse.

Creative Barcode can assist to avoid claims arising altogether or to shut them down swiftly following an enquiry without relationships being damaged.  

Had Atopia and or Heatherwick Studios barcoded their works and established provenance and user journey’s they would have been able to satisfy the enquiring party of original source and shut down claims of infringement swiftly without involving the media.  

Without a doubt designs can move in similar directions if they are addressing the same brief, same audience, same end client goal. But even where designs end up very similar if the parties can establish their separate journey’s simply by creating and adding their barcodes and having a third party evidence base under a trust agreement, it’s a very fast, efficient and low cost means of managing IP.   

Martin Green, former head of ceremonies for London 2012, has said, ‘Neither [Atopia’s images] nor any other images or presentations played any part in the briefing I gave to [Opening Ceremony artistic director] Danny Boyle and Thomas Heatherwick at the beginning of the process to create the Olympic and Paralympic Cauldron.

‘The design for the cauldron came about solely from the creative conversations between Danny, Thomas and myself.’

A public defence he would not have to have made had the parties [and or LOCOG] operated procurement procedures under Creative Barcode.

Towards the end of 2013 to early 2014 Creative Barcode will also be adding a repository of registered works and other easy to use functions that provide trust and peace of mind between Creators, their peers, their partners and their clients.

Creative Barcode


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