Did Intel Copy a Maker’s Idea?

3D Printing & Imaging Craft & Design
Did Intel Copy a Maker’s Idea?

A couple of years ago we featured a project by Mike Knuepfel called the Keyboard Frequency Sculpture. Laura Cochrane wrote:

I like the physical, visual representation of data. If done well, it can forever change the way a person thinks about and understands something.
So, I think this keyboard frequency sculpture by Mike Knuepfel is neat. It depicts which keyboard keys are used most frequently, with the height of the key proportional to how often it has been used. I would love to see this sculpture in reverse, with the least-used keys the tallest and the most-used keys creating the deepest indentations.

Today Intel tweeted this image, with the caption “Which keyboard keys are used the most? Hint: We like the blue ones.”

The likeness is certainly undeniable. What are your thoughts? Is this a case of parallel development, use without attribution, copyright infringement, or even downright theft? Please let us know in the comments section.

70 thoughts on “Did Intel Copy a Maker’s Idea?

  1. Rhinostic says:

    Where is the P and the R?

  2. Margot Paez says:

    Hard to tell since the original got the idea by using Wikipedia to find the frequencies, so the data is common knowledge and already presented in bar graph form on the Wikipedia entry.

    1. Michael Colombo says:

      The data was free, but was the way he implemented it original enough to be considered unique?

      1. Alejandro Torres says:

        If every ad piece had to give credits to idea resources the list could be infinite for each ad. It is normal this kind of use. The unique-ness is not a must to in ad world but when-where-what

      2. vansgirl12 says:

        I think it is unique enough since it highlights something entirely different. 1) It is a 3D graphic and 2) it is altered to convey an entirely different message than the sculpture. Einstein took Lorentz’s transformations verbatim but put them in a different context called relativity (Intel is no Einstein, but you get the idea).

  3. Guillermo A. Amaral (@gamaral) says:

    Well if anything, it’s a parody (not a very realistic one). INTEL’s Ad firm probably saw the original and then thought “That would make for a funny ad”.

    1. Michael Colombo says:

      If it’s a parody I’d think they’d somehow give attribution…

  4. Timothy LaFontaine says:

    I think that this is an interesting grey area. On one hand it is clear that they copied Knuepfel’s work and on the other it was an art piece that isn’t being sold. I believe that the only course of action that Mr. Knuepfel would have is the same that he would have with Make’s blog post, remove the post or attribute the post to him and his work. In the end it is possible that an employee of Intel saw his work in passing, possibly on make even, and it stuck with that employee all the while forgetting where he or she saw it and by whom it was done.

    The ball in in Mike Knuepfel’s court. It is up to him how things should proceed in my mind.

    1. terre says:

      But even if that scenario is true, they knew that THEY didn’t think it up.

  5. terre says:

    Obviously Intel is short on advertising budget, and feels like they are intimidating enough to keep someone from suing them. Dumb move- they look like uncreative bullies who have lots of lawyers, but no imagination.

  6. daneglerum says:

    Seems like fairly clear theft to me.
    Tech companies have raised law suits for phones that look less similar than these two projects.

    @tim I don’t see why it matters if the art work was for sale or not.

    1. terre says:

      I believe it only matters in that ‘ART’ is automatically copyrighted, but an ‘idea’ is not. It is so dissimilar as to not even be technically copied, but inspired. They should have attributed it but obviously they are of the school that any advertising is good- positive or not. in the end, they only care about THEIR image being burned into our brains- so let’s stop all the free press. (it clearly was ‘professionally executed’, but that doesn’t make it less sh****)

  7. M Lange (@errorad) says:

    Might have been a case of someone having seen it previously, and then being “inspired” years later without realizing it’s not an original creation. I’d give them a heads up, with the benefit of the doubt.

  8. michaeljsouth says:

    With all the data mining, bubble graphs, heat maps, etc that people are doing, I think it’s far from clear that this is a copy of the other.

    Creative visualization of data is pretty ubiquitous these days.

    I knew a person who knew a person who independently invented the CAT scan at around the same time.

    I’m not saying that anything above proves Intel didn’t see and copy the idea. I’m saying that all the people saying it’s “clearly” theft or “obviously” a copy are not justified in making that argument.

    1. terre says:

      ….actually I had the idea for BOTH MTV and GPS, while on an airplane, which I mentioned to my seatmate. Could it have been….? Yet I get no credit…..

  9. Natasha (@TechnoChicShop) says:

    Although these executions are similar, the idea behind them is totally different. The physical object is a sculpture that in its 3 dimensions is an interesting way of visualizing the keystrokes. The intel ad, however, has a message: “The top used keys spell our name, therefore, we’re important” I think we’re looking at a unique situation where very similar solutions solved two different communications problems.

    If the ad firm knew that the idea originally came from Mike Knuepfel, they could have embraced it, commissioned him to make another with the color code, credited him, and gained viewers from the maker community and beyond. I see it as nothing but a missed opportunity.

  10. Alex says:

    Yes, in my opinion they almost certainly ripped off his idea, and no, there’s nothing he can do about it legally as far as I understand the law. See also companies ripping off game mechanics: if you don’t steal actual images or text, an “idea” can unfortunately usually be poached legally.

    I’ll agree with Natasha though, Intel could have made this into a smart PR move for a low cost; as it is they got caught and look like jerks.

  11. Amik Ahmad (@amikahmad) says:

    i also have that keyboard. they totally copied my keyboard …

  12. Cale Matheson says:

    What about the space bar? That’s a key, and I’m pretty sure people use it way more than the “z” key.

  13. Bill Shirley (@bshirley) says:

    parallel development

    is there mention somewhere that i missed to make anyone think this is an Ad Firm external to Intel?

    1. Dirk Porsche says:

      I agree. Parallel development seems likely. It’s not such an innovative idea. Ad firm seems likely as well.

      1. David says:

        agreed – there is not a lot that is genuinely original anymore – who knows where Mike Knuepfel got the idea from, maybe he saw an old intel advert from the 70’s that had a similar concept. As for the intel advert – for all we know the ad guy could have been sitting at the top of the empire state building using his mac – looking down at his keyboard and then looking out at the buildings and then suddenly goes “hey those buildings could look like a keyboard” – bingo. In the end it makes no difference, a zillion people will see the intel advert and never ever hear of Mike Knuepfel – whether the idea is original or not.

    2. terre says:

      sorry- you have to be funny or ironic

  14. Jason says:

    I think this is a case of parallel development, the data is public knowledge and to be fair it doesn’t take a genius to think of representing it with an actual keyboard. The original artist created a one off sculpture that is not being sold or marketed and intel created an image that looks similar because it uses the same data.

  15. raster says:

    I’d just send Intel a reasonable invoice and wait for them to pay it…

  16. batmansion says:

    Did anyone even look closely at the two images? Several keys differ significantly in height between the two images (most prominently Z, C, and B).

  17. t-bone says:

    Both say they’re presenting key frequency, and yet neither use the caps, space, and return keys. I say they both fail.

  18. Darrick says:

    Total fail by Intel regardless of the origin. How can you tout key frequency for the letters in your name while obviously having a huge flaw in your data set that undermines the point of the ad? No way Z is used that frequently.

    1. Natasha (@TechnoChicShop) says:

      Think of all those who use ⌘Z …

      1. Darrick says:

        If you are hitting undo 5% of all keystrokes, you need to find something you are better at. Intel obviously used another data set as their values are very different from the original artist which leveraged the work on Wikipedia.


        My whole point was that using data that was not representative of common use, makes it even more meaningless that the letters I N T E L were some of the most typed. When I type short emails and sign my name, my use of Rs is very disproportionate I am sure. I wouldn’t publish such a limited data set as conclusive of a larger theme of people typing more Rs.

  19. Darrick says:

    I find it somewhat ironic that the original keyboard is a total ripoff of an Apple keyboard. It is an interesting twist as the artist acquired such a keyboard without regard to the original designers work that had been copied into the form of a Windows keyboard. Now their work appears to have fallen victim to the same.

  20. Kelly says:

    Knuepfel’s work is a sculpture which incorporates raised keys on a keyboard representing some frequency distribution.
    Intel’s work is a 3D rendering of a different keyboard which also shows raised keys – but different keys raised by different amounts – with the keys spelling out ‘intel’ colored differently to promote the brand.
    At most this is a derivation. If I make a copy of a Warhol painting and try to sell it, I’m violating copyright. If I’m inspired by Warhol and make my own painting of a soup can, clearly different from Warhol’s, then I might be unoriginal, but I’m not violating any copyright. I think Intel’s work falls into the latter category.

  21. erich says:

    As well as a tin foil hat I use a rolling substitution cipher when typing to avoid key frequency analysis via tempest – if everyone did this, this sort of picture couldn’t be produced in the first place and then ripped off by evil multinationals. I manage about two words a minute.

  22. mark hubrich says:

    I believe this means nothing. Are they spies? How do they know what keys I’m pushing? Are they scanning text? What about the use of keys that don’t leave a trace behind? I use z many times for Acad zoom command. How do they know?

    The blue keys are not even the tallest of the bunch. So they can spell they’re name on some keys with data we all know to be fictional. Can I make the data different by making a machine to press a key one million times in a day? Will that data be collected?

    What do they base their statement on?

  23. Tommy Phillips says:

    Unless you have a way of getting into the mind and history of the person who designed the Intel version, there is no way to know if it is a copy.

    On the other hand, don’t we, as makers want to support the idea that independent development is not only possible, but common? That current American “intellectual property” law punishes some perfectly innocent behaviors and rewards some deeply despicable decisions?

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In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens' educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

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