By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Design
Three-dimensional printers can exactly replicate a physical object, making it much harder to enforce copyright, patents and trademarks. Is the legal world ready for
And what if that object was an original creation by someone else? How do you credit the inventor? How does that person get paid for his or her innovation?
In a smart article in Ars Technica, Peter Hanna writes that three-dimensional printers threaten to complicate the enforcement of intellectual property law.
If you're unfamiliar with them, 3D printers use a digital file -- either a master design or a scan of an existing object -- to progressively deposit, much like an inkjet printer does in two dimensions, layers of material such as plastic or metal. Once the layers are complete, they are fused together, and the fabricated object is hardened.
That's right -- there's no carving necessary.
As you might suspect, a 3D printer threatens patents, copyrights and trademarks just as much as the two-dimensional printer threatened them on the printed page.
There's not much to argue about in terms of the actual IP owner. But what about enablers?
Like hosting digital music files, which are often studio-perfect copies of recorded audio or video, hosting 3D design files for the public to access could be a lawsuit-attracting proposition.
For now, 3D printers are far too expensive for the average person to bother with. But it's not far-fetched to imagine your young daughter one day printing out the not-yet-released Barbie she's been lusting over -- or for you to print out that Eero Saarinen chair you've always wanted -- for pennies on the dollar.
The next Napster? Copyright questions as 3D printing comes of age [Ars Technica]
Apr 11, 2011
@bubbatex, Yes, you can get a 3D scanner. it's called a Digital Camera. You need shots from several angles, then the software can make the object photographed. However, 3D printers (which currently range from $1,500 to $4,000 for hobby scale units) currently work with soft materials, and build the object slowly. The finished product is not really smooth. It needs finishing. The printers are used mostly for prototyping. They make an object that can be used to create a mold. There is even one that makes the object using "easy cheese". It will make dishes you can eat! Units are being worked on that can use biodegradable plastics. Recycling is also in the future. However, the energy costs of using this technology to make things like a car engine are prohibitive. I am sure that in the future, you will be able to download files that will make almost any kind of plastic part. However, you will probably have to pay for it, or design it yourself. Legal issues usually follow about 20 years behind the widespread use of any technology. This issue won't be settled until around 2040. Patents are intended to assure that the inventor gets paid, not that the inventor becomes a Billionaire. Rates will be reasonable, or there will be another invention. Patents protect ONE implementation of an idea, not ownership of any related idea. After all the dust settles, that is where we will be.
...as I recall seeing a demo of the technology about 20 years ago. (I even have a token paperweight created by the technology somewhere here in my office) To be certain, the tech back then was crude and very expensive by todays standards, and of limited wide- scale use.
...but in 15-20 years? Who knows? Like I suggested above, 15- 20 years ago, how many people would have accepted the idea that by now for a couple of hundred dollars, most people would own personal devices capable of downloading, storing, processing, displaying and distributing high-definition audio and video content? And even do it wirelessly? Most people I knew would have considered the notion absurdly futuristic, and even if possible, insanely expensive. Considering recent history, I think it would be foolhardy to dismiss the possibility completely.
@PassingWind - good points. This argument is no different than any other IP discussion, IMO. 3D printing is just another way to re-create something. Hammer/chisel, milling/CNC machine, injection molding, metal casting, etc. are the more traditional ways of reproducing other's products and designs. And even if the 3D printer comes down in price, is everyone going to have a 3D scanner too and/or be a competent at 3D CAD? Doubtful.
As I understand these things, I can't charge a royalty for you making a copy of my invention - in fact to get patent protection I have to publish the invention in sufficient detail that someone practised in the art can make it. I can charge you a royalty if you sell it. I can't charge your local store for selling the hammer and chisel with which you make it - Or the numerically controlled lathe or milling machine. Or the software that turns my engineering drawings into the instructions for making a mechanical part. If my invention is socially useful, there will be a mass market for mass produced versions of it, and I get royalties from their sale. But there is now a competitive limit to t he royalties I can charge. The mass produced article with its royalties now has to cost less than one you print for your own use. If a 3D printer can make a single copy of my invention as cost effectively as a mass production enterprise, my invention is as commercially useful as a folded origami invention. Mostly that won't be possible. Mass production of identical products has intrinsic cost saving opportunities. So 3D printing seems like a good deal for society - reinforcing rather than eroding the objective of the patent protection laws, which is to both reward the inventor, and encourage the competitive exploitation of th invention. It adds a renegade competitor to limit the effectiveness of any cartel.
Although the technology is still years off from being the kind of patent/copyright threat suggested, it's still a real threat that may be happening sooner than we think. After all, if in 1980 you had told any record company executive that in less than 15 years, millions of people would poses technology that would make it possible for them to produce countless flawless and identical copies of any record, they would have scoffed at the notion. And yet we all know what happened. (For the record industry, it was even worse than that person might have imagined) Now it won't just be printed material, music, and video that will so easily be copied, but practically anything. If we think that our patent and copyright laws were lagging in dealing with how to protect and permit "fair use" of existing media forms, how in the world are governments going to address this?
3D printers are good for fairly rapid prototyping. Contrary to the end of the article that states that 3D printers are too expensive, there is a kit available at http://www.makershed.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=DSMB01. This product is not that cheap unless you compare it to commercial units that cost tens of thousands of dollars. The link gives good information about the process to print 3D.
Then what happens is that the market evolves and the designers will no longer sell the objects, they will sell the mapping files much in the way they are now selling e-books. In any case, we are still far and away from duplicating beyond the simple form of an object. We are still light years away from star trek duplicator tech or even simpler tech of "printing" out a computer chip. (Or even something like a refrigerator). What is more likely is that stores will have the replicators in stock since the base cost makes zero sense for a normal consumer. It will make sense for the instant gratification crowd who wants the custom colors, etc.