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Paperfolding patents

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

What is a patent?

A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention,

which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way

of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem.

We all know that patents are granted for inventions in fields like chemical and mechanical engineering, but there are also patents for toys, puzzles, containers and other practical or useful items made from either paper or other materials and relying on folding techniques.

In real life I work as a patent translator, and over the years I’ve come across quite a few of these “paperfolding patents”. The only problem with them is that, like all patents, they are written in a rather heavy technical style, and although there are drawings they’re not really of the kind that paperfolders are used to. So deciphering the “models” can be quite a challenge.

Below is a collection of a number of patents of potential interest to folders. To see the detailed descriptions and drawings, just enter the patent number in a patent search engine. The most convenient is probably Google Patents because it shows you previews of the main drawings, so you can see which ones look interesting. At the end of each document there's usually a list of related inventions under the heading “Patent citations”.

Because I can't really think of any other quick and easy way to do this, what you'll see below is just a set of images that you can't copy and paste from. So to save you having to actually type out the patent numbers I'll include a list at the end with all the numbers in plain text form (shown in red) which you can copy and paste into Google Patents or any other patent search engine (WIPO's Patentscope and the EPO's Espacenet are also good).

It’s surprising to find patents for things like flexagons, paper darts and occasionally other established models which don't really seem to belong to any one person. Usually the main point is the devising of some kind of industrial application or commercial use. For example, Gene Finnell (known to magicians for his work on the Free Cut Principle) patented a tetra tetra flexagon for use as an advertising card (US2915842). There are also a couple of other inventors whose names will be familiar to origami aficionados.

The list here is not exhaustive, and more can be found very easily by entering “origami” or “paperfolding” as a search term instead of a particular patent number. Just ignore the serious inventions about DNA folding and machines for folding advertising brochures, and also the ones for inventions that use the term “origami” because they include some kind of hinged flap and it sounds good.

So here goes, in no particular order (except that I've saved the known names for the end). Enjoy!

Hand Operated Snapping Toy, Carl R. Daley, 1957, US2819559

Foldable Structure, Wallace Walker, 1967, US3302321

Magic Window, Satya Pal Asija, 1977, US4021950

Folded Paper Airplane, James M. BonDurant, 1983, US4377052

Hand held paper sheet folding device, Ilya Feygin, 1994, US5348526

Flat Handcraft Construction Element with Slot and Opposed Tabs, Idan Schwartz, 1990, IL96059

Origami Paper, Origami Kit and Origami Folding, Youngsock Kim, 2005, US20050106995

Origami Packet, John A. Hurwitz, 2006, US20060283922

Origami Envelope, Bor-Jiun Huang, 2020, US10793319

Puzzle, Hilary Coughlin, 1935, US2007421

Interchangeable-face devices and method of making same, Stewart Lamlee, 1976, US3971156

Fold-Through Picture Puzzle, Jose R. Matos, 1998, US5735520

Folding Apparatus, Karen Robbins Bigler, 1998, US5794980

Paper Folding Puzzle with Secondary Image, Kenneth G. Shelton, 2008, US20080143050

Puzzle Game Apparatus and Method, Ogden Page, 2008, US7341251

Changeable amusement devices and the like, Russell Rogers, 1959, US2883195

Card, Eugene Finnell, 1959, US2915842

Reversible-hinge greeting card (…), Charity Robin Fluharty, 2017, US9555660

Folder, Stuart Edward Wade, 1942, US2295704

Method of constructing an origami-style booklet (…), Robert M. Prpich, 2009, US20090031596

Folding picture puzzle (...), Jose R. Matos, 2003, US6523826

Folding puzzle, Chad Stephenson, 2004, US6679493

Playthings, Robert Burell Byrnes, 2004, US20040092199

Folding card, Antonius Cornelius Verbruggen and Geoff Rayner, 2008, US7416222

Folding picture puzzle, Harold Edborg, 1943, US2327875

Educational puzzles, Stephen E. Finkin, 1979, US4170355

Paper folding game for spatial puzzle, Ju-Hsun Yang, 1996, US5564704

Foldable puzzle cards, Noriji Asao, 1984, US4429878

Folding picture puzzle, Nathan Polsky, 1995, US5445380

Blank for Folding an Octahedron and Folded Product, Jeannine Mosely, 1985, US4517251

Paper container (…), M. Hashimoto, A. Nagashima, Jun Maekawa, Tomoko Fuse, 2001, US6237845

Container with integral foldable locking closure, Robert J. Lang, 2008, US7681784


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