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