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Could a new patent prevent a 3D printing free-for-all?

Posting in Design

A patent for a DRM system that aims to stop future 3D printer owners from printing whatever they please has been granted.

We may have imagined the day when cheap, commercial 3D printers invaded every household -- letting us print everything from clothes to cars -- but for companies that manufacture and design these products, a world where people could download these blueprints (think Wiki Weapons as an example), the future doesn't look so rosy.

If you consider how Inkjet printers revolutionized the printing industry twenty years back and put the commercial printing guy out of business, the idea is not so far-fetched.

DRM systems are used heavily in the music, movie and video game industries, although it doesn't stop people from playing the pirate -- using websites to find and download torrents which can distribute illegal content. Earlier this year, torrent search website The Pirate Bay launched 'Physibles' -- where you can download blueprints for anything from model cars to a pair of sneakers.

But would a new DRM patent make a difference?

The new patent was issued this week by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office and is titled "Manufacturing control system." Applied for four years ago, the patent describes a system where 3D printers will have to obtain "authorization" before printing items requested by a user.

In a nutshell, if you want to print that pirate blueprint of the latest Nike shoes, your printer will have to go through a database for permission. Unlikely, in theory.

"This is an attempt to assert ownership over DRM for 3D printing. It's "Let’s use DRM to stop unauthorized copying of things," Michael Weinberg, staff lawyer at Public Knowledge told TorrentFreak.

The patent has been issued to former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold's firm Intellectual Ventures.

(via TorrentFreak)

Image credit: Tristan Bethe

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— By on October 15, 2012, 7:13 PM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure