Publisher Klutz lives up to its name: "Bristlebots," Scholastic, and Evil Mad Scientist Labs *UPDATED*

UPDATE: Phil Torrone says, "And it's over - Scholastic and Klutz will credit Evil Mad Scientist's BristleBots." Lenore from Evil Mad Scientist writes,
Pat Murphy of Klutz will be sending out a note shortly to let everyone know that Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories will be receiving acknowledgment in the next printing of Invasion of the BristleBots as well as on the Klutz website. This is good news for us, and it seems like Klutz is really learning from this experience about how to work with the maker community. The online response to this situation has been overwhelming and I am glad that such an incredibly vibrant discussion was able to take place. I am truly impressed by and grateful for the support we have received."
More at Make Blog.

Phil Torrone of MAKE points to a developing story about a DIY project called "bristlebots" developed by the maker-hackers at Evil Mad Scientist laboratories -- a similar character, um, mysteriously popped up later in a children's book published by Klutz / Scholastic. PT has a blog post up with lots of detail about the case, which you should read. A personal note from him:

it's not about copyright, trademarks or patents, it's about ethics - klutz saw an original idea in 2007 called "bristlebots" from evil mad scientists and are now claiming they developed the *exact* same project, design and name "bristlebots" all in secret and all in the same year. really. now they are "genuinely surprised".

one google search for "bristlebot" has all the prior works and the original post/video from 2007. i'd like folks not to get stuck on the legal arguments - think about what type of company they'd like scholastic and klutz to be. let's help them resolve this in a fair way. here's my suggestion to them... a new statement.

"in light of the interest in invasion of the bristlebots and evil mad scientist's project we've added a special note on the next printing of the book and on our web site".

it means nothing legally, but it's the ethical thing to do.

evil mad scientists (windell and lenore) and pioneers in open source hardware all they usually ask for us credit with their projects. the first instance of "bristlebots" was from them in 2007 - yes, it's a silly toothbrush robot, but that's not the point - klutz and scholastic are jumping in to the world of makers and should at least credit something when it's clear where the idea (and name) came from.

I am not a lawyer and all of that, but that's not the point. Shame on you, Scholastic and Klutz. That's a douche move.

Here's the video from Toy Fair 2009 - the book includes "BristleBots"...


And here's the video from 2007 from Evil Mad Scientists (over 2 million views).

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  1. I have faith that they will work it out amicably. (or should I say hope?) So far the parties involved seem reasonable.

  2. From the Amazon product description: “On YouTube, dedicated tinkerers show off motorized toothbrush heads that are pretty darned impressive. Researchers at Klutz Laboratories (the folks who brought you Battery Science and LEGO Crazy Action Contraptions) have sacrificed countless toothbrushes to develop high-performance Bristlebots with more zip, wilder action, and a control that lets you adjust a Bot’s behavior. It’s a brand-new Botastic world.”

    So, that’s at least an admission that they’d seen the EMSL video.

  3. @Luke1972 – they’re free to say it was a “genuine coincidence” – we emailed the author numerous times, no response.

    but again, think about it…

    an original, never before word/project appeared in 2007 called “bristlebots” from evil mad scientists and now scholastic & klutz are claiming they developed the *exact* same project, design and name “bristlebots” all in secret and all in the same year. now they are “genuinely surprised”.

    later, the scholastic & klutz marketing team added a video to the evil mad scientist youtube page to promote their book and project by the same exact name and design. it’s unlikely this is all a genuine coincidence.

  4. I usually love Klutz’s products – they’re great little kits that encourage kids to be get their hands dirty and experiment while they learn – so I’m really disappointed in this. As a teacher, as I try to teach my students to be honest and respectful and give credit where it’s due, I don’t want examples in my classroom that contradict that. I really hope this works out well and Klutz does the right thing.

  5. This seems like a pretty lame move by Scholastic. Someone put some work into those robo-toothbrushes.

    Then again, an inclination to comment on esoteric blogs typically correlates with refexive anti-copyright posturing, so someone will probably trundle along and try to defend them in a minute…

  6. While this is shameless idea stealing, what would have gotten Klutz off the hook with EMSL? A simple credit?

  7. I have seen the design for such a device all the way back in the 80s in a soviet “Young Technologist” magazine, so the concept itself is not new in any way. So the only potential dispute is over the use of the “Bristlebot” name and I do not believe it was trademarked by either party.

  8. @mitechka – locomotion via bristles happens in nature too, this is more about a big company (scholastic/klutz) deciding if they should give credit to a specific project by the same name that appeared first.

    klutz usually trademarks all their terms and words, in this example “bristlebots” they did not – i can only speculate but it’s likely they saw it was being used for the exact same project with the exact same name.

    but this isn’t about legal stuff, it’s circular and toxic – it’s more about what we want to see companies do. a simple “inspired by EMS” would have been more than acceptable i bet and my post would have been celebrating how cool it was that a project from makers is going “big time”.

  9. They saw a cool idea and expanded on it. That’s how ideas are supposed to work: people share and use them.

  10. It IS possible they came up with the idea at the same time.

    For starters, EMSL’s bristlebot was, in their words, “our take on the popular vibrobot, a simple category of robot that is controlled by a single vibrating (eccentric) motor. Some neat varieties include the mint-tin version as seen in Make Magazine (check the video), and the kid’s art bot: a vibrobot with pens for feet.” It isn’t inconceivable that another person in the world read the Make article or saw one of the many vibrobot videos and had a similar inspiration for a bristlebot.

    Second, the term “bristlebot” is completely obvious – I mean, what else are you going to call a robot made from a toothbrush bristle? Vibrobrushbot? Toothbrushbot?

    Just sayin.

  11. UPDATE: Word is that Pat Murphy of Klutz had no idea this was going on, and I believe the source. Murphy says, “We (that’s me and some other folks at Klutz) will be talking to Lenore asap. (Today if all goes well.) I’ll keep you posted.”

  12. @Brettspiel – scholastic & klutz added a “bristlebot” video to the evil mad scientist’s youtube page recently to promote their project/book “bristlebot” – sorry, they obviously knew about this project from EMS – it wasn’t developed in secret at the same exact time with the same exact name and the same design.

    i just saw xeni’s note – i’m glad to see they’re contacting EMS, we sent emails to the author, klutz and scholastic earlier in the week – no responses at all – but now that there is some interest it seems like they’re going to take care of it.

  13. Update 2: Here’s an update from Lenore, Evil Mad Scientists…

    (Feb. 20, 12:53pm PST): I just got off of a good phone conversation with Klutz and we’re exploring how we can get acknowledgment for Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories.

    ============

    so, it’s looking good –

  14. OK, here goes:

    I hereby bequeth all trademark and registrada muy etcetera to Evil Mad Scientist Labs the following Bristlebot harmonic variations:

    Gristlebot (ummmm…goes good with BBQ sauce)
    Thistlebot (oh damn, the baby sat on the…)
    Misslebot (son of SDI)
    Wrestlebot (damn, that hideous strength…)
    Cthulubot (for seekers of the old eldritch ones)
    Googlebot (probably already TM’d somewhere)
    Aruglabot (now that’s silly)

    Take it from there and continue, Groucho. Or not.

  15. and it’s over — thanks for your help.

    And it’s over – Scholastic and Klutz will credit Evil Mad Scientist’s “BristleBots”

    Here the final note on the “BristleBots” we’ve been covering here – Lenore from Evil Mad Scientist writes –

    “Pat Murphy of Klutz will be sending out a note shortly to let everyone know that Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories will be receiving acknowledgment in the next printing of Invasion of the BristleBots as well as on the Klutz website. This is good news for us, and it seems like Klutz is really learning from this experience about how to work with the maker community. The online response to this situation has been overwhelming and I am glad that such an incredibly vibrant discussion was able to take place. I am truly impressed by and grateful for the support we have received.”

    http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2009/02/and_its_over_scholastic_and_klutz_w.html

    cheers,
    pt

  16. Just a couple of words about Pat Murphy, whom I knew in college and have admired from across the bay since then – she’s a brilliant science fiction/fantasy writer (checkout “The City not Long After”), and worked for years at the Exploratorium and put together the Explorabook, which was originally published by the Exploratorium and later by Klutz. I’m not currently in touch with Pat, but I am sure she wasn’t trying to rip anyone off – I take her explanation at face value, and I’m glad that she immediately worked to put things right with EMS (and if they are satisfied, shouldn’t we be?). I’m also glad that she helped create a book that will bring the idea of the bristlebot to 1000s and 1000s more kids than the Make video would have on its own…

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