Wednesday, November 10, 2010


3D printing and "Intellectual Property"

A while ago a few of us wrote a paper:

on the "IP" implications of home 3D printing.  This looked at the matter mainly from the UK and EU perspective.

Inspired by that, Public Knowledge, a Washington DC based public interest group, has now put out a white paper on the same questions from a US perspective.  You can access it here:

It Will Be Awesome if They Don’t Screw it Up: 3D Printing, Intellectual Property, and the Fight Over the Next Great Disruptive Technology.

Super, Adrian! Thanks for posting this. :-)
I'm not sure what the big deal is - in the future, there will be designs you have to pay for - and designs that are free...just like proprietary and OpenSource software. What we have to do is to encourage the latter so it doesn't get overwhelmed by the former.

But we can't eliminate the availability of commercial designs. And we shouldn't try because just like programmers (and musicians and movie-makers and novelists) - CAD designers and mechanical engineers have to make a living somehow.

What is also important is that we wind up with the "Android" model of distribution - and not the "iPhone" way. We don't want a situation where one manufacturer of 3D printers can dominate the market and thereby decide what apps are OK and what aren't...especially if they behave like Apple do and exclude things just because they conflict with the corporate "line" on how things are supposed to be.

IMHO, RepRap is doing exactly the right thing to make it all come out right. The platform is open - and we have places like thingiverse that play the role of aggregators of free content.

Stretching the phone analogy...maybe it's time for RepRap to hit on Google for a big pile of money! They need that open marketplace in order to sell their search services - when someone wants a CAD design for a replacement widget, Google will want them to google for it (and see paid adverts for the commercial offerings alongside the free stuff). Google do NOT want people to mindlessly head to the "iStore iPrinter marketplace" to buy a design from a closed service - because search is not involved
Great post!

How to go about answering Weinberg's call to action is an interesting challenge. How does a loosely organized group of open-source tinkerers and academics pull together enough economic, legal and political influence to match established industries in court?

It seems like the most straight forward strategy would be to assemble a network of organizations and individuals to pool resources. The problem is that few people even know what 3D printing is, and even fewer feel in any way invested.

Given the small impact of 3D printing I think we have more than a few years before anything really "needs" to be done, but it will be an interesting evolution to watch.
I'm so glad you guys are doing this stuff. I've been keeping an eye on this for some time now and it is starting to get really exciting. I'm writing a (fiction) book at the moment and in chapter 15 I have a young couple doing groundbreaking experiments, but they don't have any money so they're using replicators to make a lot of their equipment. In the story I provide a link to, but unfortunately your site is not working at the moment. Just thought I'd let you know.

Oh, and in case you want to read my story, you can read it for free at:
I expect to be finished the first draft by December.

Keep up the great work.
Oops! Your is back.
Sorry about the false alarm.
This comment has been removed by the author.
bluebackflyer said: "Given the small impact of 3D printing I think we have more than a few years before anything really "needs" to be done, but it will be an interesting evolution to watch."

-well three days ago there was an article about it in the big german newspaper "sueddeutsche zeitung" called something like "busy bees in 3D". It was on the first page of the feuilleton section and it had some pictures as well. maybe it's not going to take so long..

(sorry i don't know how to edit so i just deleted and reposted my comment)
Oh, I agree that things will come to a head sooner rather than later. I just don't think 3D printing will have enough practical impact on the world in the next few years to require an active legal defense.

In my mind that's a good thing. I think it's positive that 3D printing is coming from the bottom. It just might insinuate itself into our lives so well that it can't be cut out. As long as the transition is gradual and non-threatening we'll be able to see the benefits before anyone starts losing their job.
The question is what happens when (not "if") one of the inkjet printer manufacturers starts selling a reliable, high quality 3D printer for $200? If 3D printing takes off then someone will do that for sure.

If that machine is all wrapped up in DRM and won't print something downloaded from thingiverse then we've failed because a $200 RepRap kit can't compete against a ready-to-use $200 beige box with a warranty. The manufacturers will be able to sell them that cheap using the model that 2D printers use - sell the printer for half what it's worth - then make a killing on exorbitant ink prices? Also videogame consoles (sell the console at a loss - make money on licensing the games) or for cellphones ($400 phone for free - with a 2 year contact) - or satellite dishes (free so long as you pay to decrypt the datastream). This business model works because consumers are stupid and don't look at "cost of ownership".

The things in the world that don't sell on that model are things that were already entrenched when the idea to do that came along. So $5,000 cars that only run on $50 a gallon "Ford Brand" gasoline simply don't exist. People buy TV sets - when it would make business sense for the cable TV company to give you one free in exchange for an over-priced 2 year lock-in.

What we have to do is push the free content before the commercial "wave" hits in order that 3D printers can sell more like cars - and less like 2D printers.

If there are a bazillion usable 3D designs out there and plenty of sources of affordable feedstock when the big boys get cheap printers to the market, they'll have to actually make a profit on the hardware - and not lock people in with DRM and insanely expensive, funny-shaped, pre-loaded, sealed-for-life cartridges of feedstock that you can't replicate for patent reasons.
I get where you're coming from, but I'm not sure that I agree.

In my mind the biggest obstacle to 3D printing becoming a simple fact of life is that no one knows what it is. Few people are even aware of the concept of additive manufacturing.

What the DIY/Open Source community is doing is educating the public. It's something that no business would do because it would be incredibly expensive and would mostly benefit their competition. The end result will be a brand new demand in the marketplace.

That demand will be large enough to be satisfied by dozens of different sources of supply, most of which will be profitable for someone. For example, most materials are simply too difficult or toxic to work with on a desktop, so a 3D printing business (like Kinkos) will do that for you. But it will only become profitable AFTER the public knows the possibility exists.

In my mind, trying to shut commercial entities out of the market by pushing open source, self-replicating solutions into every corner will only make it more likely that those commercial interests will resort to legal action. On the other hand, pushing one or two solutions, like self-replicating fabbers for the 3rd world, will create that demand via education but won't threaten anyone enough for them to feel like anti-pirating measures are necessary.

Besides, does anyone think it's possible for a company to sell a 3D printer tha would be un-hackable? They all have to work pretty much the same way. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to buy a $100 3D printer and hack a commodity spool of ABS onto it than to have to build the whole thing from scratch?

Most people will not (could not) deal with the troubleshooting required to make open-source solutions work. But people who can make open-source stuff work can easily deal with commercial products.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]