When Google-backed augmented reality company Magic Leap quietly applied for a patent, it did so with dozens of pages of futuristic (and slightly creepy) scenarios: a social media charm bracelet, a gargoyle bursting out of a box in a store, gamified cucumber chopping...
Wait a second. That last one sounds familiar. Maybe that's because it's a line drawing of a shot from "Sight," a Black Mirror-esque short film about an augmented, sinister future. As it turns out, Magic Leap's patent art isn't so much its vision of the future as one created by various students and designers. Former Verge-r and current Gizmodo writer Sean Hollister was tipped off to a set of side-by-side comparisons that leave no doubt we're looking at copies.
If patents are about originality, does this mean Magic Leap is hurting its claims? Not really. A great deal of patent art just shows potential designs or uses for something, in order to make the actual, more abstract claims clearer. In this case, Magic Leap is patenting an optical system that has nothing to do with the interfaces displayed here. Even bringing a copyright claim would be hard and arguably pointless. "Images such as these are setting consumer expectations of VR and AR today," the company told Gizmodo. "We wanted to use the same images to demonstrate what our technology will enable."
The designers themselves seem ambivalent of their images' rebirth as patent art. Magic Leap appears to have neither contacted them nor credited them, but at the same time, it's showing the world how this futuristic design fiction could work. It's one thing to have someone rip off your art. It's another to have them actually make it real — if Magic Leap can actually deliver on its ambitious promises.