The Story of a Key Ring


I found this little design on flickr, its laser cut from reclaimed aluminium. It’s the work of Don Solo who in his own words is “just a geek being a geek for other geeks.”Apparently the design is based on the Weighted Companion Cube in Valve’s game Portal. He made a few of these key rings for friends, then the key ring began to get a lot of views on flickr (65 000) and people started asking if they can get one of them. So generously he began to give them away to people who emailed him. However that came to an end because someone sold one on ebay trying to profit from his generosity. Since then he decided to try selling them on ebay himself and was surprised to find that people were willing to pay $53 for one of these little laser cut pieces.


It’s been really successful for something that was never intended to be sold. Quite inspirational really, it’s just a key ring but from reading the comments on his flickr site people really love them. It’s a great advertisement for laser cutting; anyone can design something and then get it produced cheaply to a professional standard and then hopefully be really successful like this key ring.

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So…when do we get aluminum as a material in the materials catalog? Hehehe

Quick clarification, I technically wasn’t “giving them away” to anyone, just selling them for far less then I realized they were worth apparently – and I was fine with that until, as you said, some one turned a profit on my work. Everything else is spot on, and a nice little article. Thanks!

Hi DonSolo,
This is a great example of a conversation I was having about Ponoko possibly blurring the lines in terms of copyright. Out of curiosity, was that ever a concern for you? I’m definitely all for your design, and any profit cos it’s your idea to make it a keychain – but that kind of thing can cross into trademarks. Any thoughts? (I didn’t do any research on the game.)

That’s a good point to bring up, and it’s been a concern of mine since I stated making extras for people. I know very little of copyright law so if anyone has anything helpful to add I’m all ears, but here are my thoughts:

I’m theoretically in the clear on this for a number of reasons. For starters I’m only making a very limited number of these and not mass producing them, so even if it was a direct rip off of anything it would probably fly under the radar. Also, if you caught the auction listing description, I make it redundantly clear this is not an official Valve item and I’m not connected to them in any way shape or form – so I’m not faking anyone into thinking they’re getting something they’re not.

I have a little more solid defense though. While “Weighted Companion Cube” is probably a registered trademark of theirs, “companion keychain” isn’t – so I’m not even claiming it as a “Weighted Companion Cube Keychain” or anything misleading. Also, the design I came up with is truthfully not from the game… the real WCC is a detailed 3D cube, and the little icons on the walls at the start of the levels that this is similar to are far less detailed than what I came up with. It’s an original design based on the WCC, not some image converted to cut on a laser.

I know for a fact some people who got them weren’t interested because of the game. A few of my friends who wanted one had never played Portal – they just thought it was a cool design. As it turned out, some were given as a Valentines gift for a few of their geeky girlfriends. Being such a limited run laser cut pendant with a heart on it combined with perfect timing for the first lot and I should have expected that.

So, again, this is just my thought on the copyright issue regarding what I’ve done here… I could be completely wrong or right for the wrong reasons even. Who knows. But I figure given the hordes of fan made Portal T-shirts out there ranging from crappy designs on Zazzle and Cafepress (with in game images and official logos) to a quasi-mainstream webcomic putting out one on their mainpage with a quote from the game: my handful of auctions paint a much smaller target on my head.

*crosses fingers*

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