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Can you copy a 3D print file without violating patent or copyright law? If someone makes a slight change to your original design file, would that new file no longer be protected by the original copyright? A recent decision in the Federal Court battle between Align Technologies, makers of Invisalign 3D printed clear braces and a direct competitor ClearCorrect, has established (for now) if digital files and 3D CAD files are considered “articles” within US Patent Law. While this case has raised awareness for an important issue in the 3D printing industry, it actually will not have as much impact on 3D print file rights and protection as it may first appear. In this WTFFF?! episode, Tom and Tracy Hazzard interview Intellectual Property Attorney Maria Speth, a Partner at the Jaburg Wilk law firm, about the Invisalign case, the differences between patents and copyrights, and how you can best protect your 3D print digital files. What are some best practices for protecting your 3D print files? Do you need to register that copyright? This podcast has critical and valuable information for anyone creating, selling, or sharing 3D CAD files.
Listen to the podcast here:
3D Print File Rights And Protection With Maria Speth Of Jaburg Wilk
A recent decision in the Federal Court battle between Align Technologies, makers of Invisalign 3D Printed clear braces, and direct competitor Clearcorrect, has established (for now) if digital files, 3D CAD files, are considered “articles” within US Patent law. While this case has raised awareness for an important issue in the 3D Printing industry, it actually will not have as much impact on 3D print file rights and protection as it may first appear. In this WTFFF?! episode Tom and Tracy interview Intellectual Property Attorney Maria Speth, partner in the law firm of Jaburg Wilk, about the Invisalign case, the differences between Patents and Copyrights, and how you can best protect your 3D Print digital files.
We’re excited to bring you an episode about copyright and law surrounding 3D printing.
The intellectual property of 3D printing from a real genuine expert in the field.
Not just us debating it.
Our guest is Maria Speth, a partner at the law firm of Jaburg Wilk. Her specialty is in the intellectual property of all kinds, but copyright, in particular. We know her from a business organization.
We met her from a collaborative networking event and she’s a dynamo. She has such a massive amount of knowledge and she’s a litigator, so she knows the application of it. That’s better sometimes than someone who does filings all the time. What is the manifestation of it? We have found clearly in our patent history with both filings and litigation that those that have some experience with litigating do a better job of filing for you because they understand what’s going to happen in its manifestation. We’re excited about this interview because there’s so much about it we don’t know.
There’s a lot of speculation and a lot of discussions. We’ve talked about issues around copyright on our show in the past and we have our opinions, but it’s our opinions. We’re not attorneys, so we’re excited to hear from an attorney. What was the impetus for talking to Maria about coming on the show was an article in the media about a patent infringement case with Align Technology, people who make the Invisalign braces. We don’t know how many of our readers know this, but the Invisalign braces are 3D printed. Every single one of them.
They scan your mouth and then they process the scanned file in a way at which a set of steps. You have 3 or 5, or depending on how much your mouth has to move, and you put the next set in and you wear it for 90 days. You put the next set in and you wear it for however many days your protocol is. It steps your mouth into the perfect alignment.
Invisalign has been around for a long time.
They’re one of the early 3D printers and successful.
They use the big commercial 3D printers that use the resin-based printing, but they came up with a system and they filed for patents on how these 3D models are altered slightly a little bit more to get your teeth to move where you want to go. There was another company that got into the market after them and was doing something to try to get around their patent, and this happens all the time. Patents are great, but they only cover what you file for. If somebody finds another way to do it, that’s usually fair game, but they felt that this company was infringing on them sending files overseas and bringing them back to the country.
In this case, it’s interesting because it wasn’t that what they were doing isn’t different. They are processing the file in relatively the same way. The only difference is that they’re not processing the file on US territory. They’re processing it in Pakistan and sending the file back. Align Technology is claiming that the International Trade Commission should get involved in that because they’re trading in this design file that is problematic.
That’s what the International Trade Commission does. If you have a US patent that is being copied or somebody’s doing the same thing in another country where you don’t have a patent, that’s okay. They can do that, but once they bring it into the US, that becomes a violation of US trade law and patent law. In any case, the interesting part is this case was hinging on an issue that’s important to our industry, which is that, is a digital file an article that’s protected by patent law? That’s what this interview is going to start talking about with Maria. Also, it quickly gets into copyright, which in all reality is more applicable to 3D printing to all of the industries that were involved in talking about here on this show.
Maria, thank you for joining us. Our audience may not know that we’ve known you for quite a while through CEO Space. It’s been great to get to know you. We’re excited to have the opportunity to talk to you about something work-related and something that our readers will be interested in.
I’m excited to be here.
We reached out to you because there’s this article in the media that’s in the federal courts having to do with digital files and there were some decisions that may affect whether digital files are considered tangible things that are protectable by IP.
There’s some confusion because 3D print files are a manufacturable item at the end of the day, but are those files themselves a thing?
Are they protectable? Maria, can you maybe share some of your thoughts on that subject in general, and we know there’s been a decision in this case and how that may affect or may not affect things going forward?
The decision that was rendered by the Federal Circuit, which is the circuit court that addresses appeals that relate to intellectual property claims. There are circuits all over the country that are geographical. It is the only circuit that’s not geographically limited. It’s limited by that subject matter. The Federal Circuit decided a case on November 10th of 2015 called ClearCorrect Operating versus International Trade Commission and Align Technology, which was an intervener in the case. What I want to say most important about this case is it’s interesting from a legal perspective, but it doesn’t have a lot of effect on the industry because it’s a narrow holding. First of all, the International Trade Commission has jurisdiction to stop articles. The word articles is an important word in this sentence to stop articles from being imported into the country if those articles constitute an unfair act. It’s often used to stop patent infringement bottom line.
If somebody has a patent in the United States and they don’t have a patent, let’s say in China, so they can’t stop somebody from making the product in China because their patent doesn’t expand beyond the borders of the United States. However, as soon as the infringer tries to import the product into the United States, the patent holder would look to the International Trade Commission to say, “Don’t let that be imported into the US because the importation of that article into the United States would be an unfair act. It would be a patent infringement.” They play an important role, but the statute that Congress gives to the ITC to permit them to do this is narrow and it only permits them to have jurisdiction over the importation of “articles.” This case came down to is a digital file an article? It is interesting. The court ultimately determined that ITC did not have jurisdiction and that digital file is not an article, but that doesn’t mean it’s not property. That doesn’t mean it’s not intellectual property and not protected in many different ways. It means it’s not an article under that specific statute that gives the ITC jurisdiction.
It doesn’t change anybody’s ability to say that that file is copyrightable, design patentable, or any of those things?
It has no bearing on any of those things. In this ClearCorrect case, the company makes 3D models, but in order to move around in commerce with what they’re making, they send digital files. The only thing that the alleged infringer did was send a digital file into the United States, not a physical model or a physical article. The court said, “We can’t take the statute that for.” Interestingly, the court invited Congress to do something about it because, in their conclusion, the court says, “We think what Congress meant by articles is unambiguous and it doesn’t include digital files. We think we’ll leave it to Congress, the task of maybe expanding the statute to make it clear that they do want to include that kind of intellectual process or digital file.” They left that issue open for the future for Congress, but the court decided it wasn’t within its realm to interpret the statute any other way other than the definition of an article does not include a digital file.
I don’t know if any of the companies in the 3D printing industry are interested in spending a whole lot of money lobbying Congress anytime soon or if they think they can get some legislation passed anytime soon. Is it sorely needed? We’ve been designing products for many years, usually retail products, but we use three-dimensional models in our work and have for all that time. With 3D printing, we’re getting to the point of doing commerce with 3D files specifically and we have a lot of concerns about protecting our work and about how easy it is to steal some of these things. The music industry has had a lot of lobbying efforts and a lot of good laws written to protect them from music being played improperly or unfairly. There’s a lot of parallels between that in this industry. What can you tell our readers is protectable through copyright? It is the most applicable intellectual property protection. What do you think is missing and maybe could be done better with some law changes coming up?
The good news is that although this particular decision that we looked at is narrow and the ITC’s jurisdiction is narrow when we look at what remedies are available to the people, the companies, in this case, we immediately look to copyright law. The nice thing about copyright law is it’s under the Berne Convention countries, almost every country that you can think of, recognizes one another’s copyrights. With patents, it’s country-specific, though the system has no treaty and no way to recognize one another’s patents. Everything’s country by country, but with copyrights and the Berne Convention, we all recognize one another’s copyrights. These digital files are clearly protected by copyright and there are some other limitations to copyright, but the geographic limitation is not there. That’s where I would have looked to start with. Copyright does have a limitation. It only protects the expression of the idea and not the idea itself, but that’s okay. We’re talking about the actual file. The manifestation of your expression, idea, and what you created. As long as it was original, it is in fact copyright protected.
That brings us up to our real thought. Our real concern about it is that we clearly see if we’ve got a file and our file produces a tie or an angel or whatever it is, it doesn’t matter that it produces that. Whatever printer you use to make it, it’s still an angel at the end of the day. That’s copyrightable and it’s designed, but what if we have the ability for derivatives? That’s where the Invisalign, in this case, gets confusing. Every time they make a set of teeth, the model is slightly different because everybody’s teeth are slightly different. If we made the angel, the ability to put anyone’s initials on it, every single one of those is a derivative. Is that protected?
The copyright statute and the definition of copying are broad. It’s not just photocopying or making an exact direct copy. It’s making any derivation of it. When we look at copying, we look at copying original elements, so it’s enough to copy an original element of the copyrighted work. You don’t have to copy the whole thing. Copyright is broad in that sense. I know that you’ll have lots of protection if someone were to take a file that you created. Let’s say a model that you create, and as long as it’s an original model, you created it yourself, you didn’t make it open-source, and you didn’t put it out there as a creative commons to let other people use, which happens a lot in your field. If you didn’t do any of those things and somebody decides to take it without your permission, they have violated your copyright.
The copyright would be on the actual digital file. Is that right?
If somebody 3D prints that and that’s a physical manifestation of it, is it your opinion that printed articles would still be protected or covered under copyright?
That would be a derivative. A more classic example of a derivative work would be that you write a book and I make a movie from the book. I’ve made a derivative work. I’ve transformed it into another medium, but I’ve taken all of your characters, script, and words. That’s a derivative work. If you put out a model in order for me to do a 3D printing and then I take that model and I use it to print something without your permission, I have infringed your copyright.
That’s great news. We’re happy to hear that that’s your opinion on this because you’re right. In this industry, there are many free models out there, and that’s okay. People have every right to offer their models for free, but the quality of those free models is not shoppable content. It doesn’t rise to the level of a retail item someone would ever want to buy, but we do see the future economy going that way. There will be a lot more models created that companies put tens and hundreds of hours into creating and there’s a lot of real value there. If it’s easy for someone to copy that, take it, and use it without consequence, it’s going to hurt the overall industry.
The biggest problem that you have in your industry is ignorance. I deal with this in general, in the intellectual property world. I always like to say, “People who wouldn’t dream of getting in your car and taking it for a joy ride without your permission thinks it’s okay to take a copyright-protected work or any intellectual property without permission because there’s no copyright police. There’s nobody there who’s going to stop them from taking it, so they don’t realize the consequences of it.” One thing that I recommend to people in industries that are dealing with a lot of intellectual property, especially if it’s out there on the internet, is a plain-language English layperson statement that says, “This design or model is protected by copyright. If you want permission to use it, you need to make arrangements with us. You can’t use it without that.” You should also use the traditional copyright notice, but people often either ignore that or don’t understand what that means. Whereas, in addition to the copyright notice, you say in plain English, “If you want to go print a model from this file, you need my permission to do it.” That’s important to let people know because you have a lot of ignorance out there. People don’t know any better.
Is it okay for you to say, “If you’re selling a 3D model file and you sell it over a website that allows you to do that, and you give permission for the person that purchases it to print it for their personal use, but not to resell it or give it away for free.” Can you put conditions on something like that, that are your own conditions? Does that hold up?
Absolutely, because what you’re doing is you’re licensing that file to them for the purpose of them making a personal product out of it. You, as the licensor, have the right to restrict the license and you can do it through a click agreement as long as it’s clear what they’re clicking on. You don’t want the agreement to be buried in any way. You want them to click I agree on the terms, especially that plain language that they’re clicking I agree to, and then you’ve created a contract. You’ve created a license agreement where they should understand that what they’re allowed to do is print one for their personal use, but what they’re not allowed to do is to monetize it or commercialize it.
It’s a big struggle in 3D print because a lot of us have come out of the world where everything that we made had to be patented. We come out of a world where everything was tangible and everything was an actual article, and we’re starting to trade in the design files, so it’s a shift in paradigm for us.
The other thing that you’ll run into is that your work needs to have enough originality in order to be copyright protected, to begin with. Your file does, but let’s say the model, all it produces is a circle. Let’s say it’s a sphere. At least the resulting product has no originality and there’s nothing special about it. You hit on this when you said it’s just an angel. There are numerous ways to express an angel, so there’s going to be some originality there. If it were something simple that there would be only one way to express it, then at that point, you would not be able to stop somebody from creating a plain, for instance, sphere. You do want to have at least enough originality to be under the copyright laws, to begin with.
We certainly understand that. We’re promoting that. We want everything that we do to be original. A lot of people that get into 3D printing don’t always create new things to 3D print. They’re downloading free files and trying it out. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but we’ve always emphasized on our show and our readers certainly know that everything that we’re 3D printing, we create originally. We’re trying to make things that are not only unique looking but are uniquely suited to be 3D printed. We’re taking advantage of that technology and it wouldn’t be easy to reproduce our designs using another technology, say, injection molding or something. A lot of our parts could not be injection molded. Without making it in many different parts and putting them together, it would be counterproductive to the whole product. It’s great to get a better understanding of this because it comes up a lot from our readers and we’ve danced around the subject before. We’ve never had an expert in the field. Our readers understand, Maria, you do a lot of litigation around copyright. Is that right?
I do all kinds of intellectual property litigation.
Are there any best practices that designers can use to ensure their copyright? In the old days, you write your book and you send it into the Copyright Office. Design files are changing every minute. It is a little inefficient to be doing that.
One practice that you should do is put the copyright notice on it, which is going to be the C in the circle, the year that it was published, the owner, and then also the plain English statement that we talked about. Let’s talk about registration. When you write a book, you send the book in and you register the copyright on the book. Copyrights are automatic. The minute that I fix something in a tangible form, I automatically have a copyright in it. However, registration makes a big difference in what the remedies can be in the event of an infringement. Without a registration, if you infringe my copyright, I can get my actual damages from you, which might be a reasonable licensing fee. It might be the money that I lost as a result of your infringement. It might be the money that you gained as a result of your infringement, but none of those may be big numbers. It becomes perhaps not economically feasible to hire an attorney and pursue it because your attorney’s fees may cost more than you’ll recover.
Not having a registration is not the best situation to be in. On the other hand, if you have a registration, your recovery can include statutory damages, which can go up to $150,000 for willful infringement and you can recover your attorney’s fees. It’s a whole new ballgame on the remedy that you have in the ammunition you have for resolution. Certainly, you want to have a registration, if at all possible, but you raise the difficult issue of, “I may create fifteen slightly different versions of this, but I can’t justify a $35 filing fee or $50 filing fee if I’m going to make 100 different ones.” It’s $50 for a company and $35 for an individual. That is where it can be tricky. If you’ve got a core file that you’re using, then I would register at least that core file and maybe not every derivation or modification to it but the core file.
If somebody else comes along and infringes that, instead of arguing that they infringe your derivation of it that you didn’t register, I would argue that they infringed the original file because they’ve taken original elements from it and that is protected by registration. You up the ante on what their remedy is. You can still claim copyright infringement of the unregistered one and if your actual damages are high enough, that would be worthwhile. If not, you can come back to the original file that you did register and say, “This takes some original elements from the registered copyright.”
That’s useful information because as this industry continues to mature, there’s going to be these core files that can be customized, mostly personalized with a certain message that isn’t substantive to the design. It makes it more applicable to whoever is purchasing it or printing it. It would seem you could copyright register that core file.
It’s no different than if you were singing a song. If you had registered the lyrics to a song and it had somebody’s name in it, it had Alex, says the name in it, and somebody else went in and took the same lyrics, but they replaced the Alex, that is not substantive. They didn’t change the message of the song at all. They just changed the name.
If all you’re doing, as far as changes to the core file, is personalization, I’m comfortable that your registration of the main product is going to be quite sufficient.
Maria, when it comes to digital files and you apply to register that copyright, are you just printing out and sending image representations of that file? Do you submit the electronic file with the registration?
Typically, I would send it in a PDF because you want to file electronically if you can. It’s faster and cheaper to file electronically. Even if you file electronically, you could always submit your deposit material through the mail, but if it’s not published, you will do it by a PDF.
Our files are in STL format, which is a crazy format. It’s a code. How do we submit that? All the lines of code, we don’t even know what document it would make. Are we submitting a visual representation of what that 3D file is?
I know that when we register websites, what we do is we’re given the option to register a piece of the code as opposed to the entire thing because it’s voluminous. It’s like a representative example, with software computer programs. With software, I’m not sure. Let’s look at computer programs. You can do the first 25 and the last 25 pages of source code. Is this considered a source code?
It’s analogous, but it’s not a program as much as it is a digital representation of a three-dimensional object. It’s a CAD model. What does G-code look like when you edit it? G-code certainly is a source code. It’s machine instructions for making the objects. That’s what you would file.
I can find out. I know for sure that CAD files can be protected, but I’m not sure what the deposited material looks like.
Us either because we haven’t done it yet.
We can follow-up. We’ll follow up with our readers on that one.
Maria, do you have any last tips or words of advice for designers out there in 3D printing?
The one thing that we didn’t talk about, as far as protecting your work, is functionality. My last tip or topic that I would want to cover would be the concept of copyrights protecting the non-functional aesthetic and non-utilitarian portions of what you’re doing. If what you’re making is purely utilitarian, it has no copyright protection because that can only be protected by a patent functionality. I’ve been assuming in our conversation here, that what you’re creating or what your files represent are things that have aesthetic value to them that are not necessarily functional or at least not solely functional. I would warn that if what you’re creating is solely functional, copyrights won’t help you. At that point, only a patent could help you.
Your assumption was correct in terms of at least what we do, in design. Everything we’re doing in this 3D printing arena is more of aesthetic value and it doesn’t have a particular function. That may not be true for all of our readers, so it’s important to understand that distinction.
It brings up an interesting point. One of the things that concern me about this utilitarian design pattern overlap is that stores like Lowe’s are putting in 3D scanners so that you can come in and scan an object or a piece of molding. We’re using the example, frequently of a knob. You want to change out the knobs in your kitchen and you can’t get the same knob again, so you go in, have it scanned, and remade, but those may well be protected under utility patents and you don’t even know it. That’s where that ignorance can come in.
That’s an important aspect of 3D printing. People assume, “I have the right to use this,” and they might not. Not even just a patent, but perhaps that knob is protected because it has a cool ornamental design on it. Maybe my knob for my cabinets is etched in a certain way and that etching is protected by copyright. As you say, people go in, they scan it, and then they have inadvertently infringed either somebody’s patent or somebody’s copyright. In the situation of the consumer goes into Lowe’s and does that, in all likelihood, you’re either going to have a fair use defense or nobody’s going to care much, especially if we’re talking about a knob on a cabinet. When somebody decides, “I can go and take this knob that is hard to find, but they were popular at one time. I can create them and start selling them online.” That’s where people are going to care. If it’s a personal use to create or replace a missing part, from a practical standpoint in all likelihood, nobody’s going to be harmed and nobody’s going to care. When people are using it to monetize it or commercialize it, then it’s more likely to create a problem. I want to be careful and I don’t mean to infer that it’s not infringement. Practically, it probably would never raise an eyebrow.
It would be hard for somebody to see that in your own home on your own cabinet if you have done that.
It’s going to be hard to police something like that, but as you said, Maria, there’s little harm. The company didn’t lose a significant amount of business by you doing that.
The question is, is the knob even available? That’s interesting because whatever this product might be, is it available to be bought from the manufacturer? That’s a big difference from something that’s out of circulation and you can’t get in any other way. I know 3D printing is used quite a bit in that situation where I can’t get it in any other way. The only thing I can do is create it. There is no one to be harmed by it. They’re not selling, not competing with or taking from the person who originally sold it, who knows how many years ago. If they are selling it and I’m trying to find a cheaper, easier, and quicker way to get what I want, typically, 3D printing is not cheaper, easier or quicker, but assuming that it was for some reason, then there could be an issue there. Even if it is only in my own home, I still have deprived the seller of the ability to sell that replacement part to me. There’s a big difference if it’s not in circulation from if it is.
That’s good advice. It’s more troublesome for Lowe’s of the world. Back in the old days, when Kinko’s first came in and they’re saying, “We’re policing copyright.” Do you trust that the guy there is policing copyright? The same thing with the person that’s running the scanner at Lowe’s? They are going to be like, “No, that’s in circulation. We have that over in this department and I can’t run it.” How informed are they?
I bet they’re not. It is interesting that the guy at Kinkos will be careful about that. You bring the book in and you want them to run a book or a chapter of a book, they will say no to you. They have gotten to the point where they do understand that. In many areas of technology, I laugh and I smile about this because this has replayed itself over and over in many different areas of technology. Going back to the video recorders, there was a whole lawsuit over whether the video recorder was going to be outlawed because people wouldn’t have to watch the whole TV show. They could skip the commercials. It was an instrument or a means of committing a crime. The courts said, “As long as it has legitimate purposes, then it’s a legitimate tool.” The fact that somebody uses an otherwise legitimate tool for something that’s not legal, does not make the tool illegal. Its only use is for something illegal. For instance, think of a device that cracks a code and has no other purpose but to crack a code of, let’s say a garage door opener or something. That would be different from something that has legitimate uses. Lowe’s will be fine as long as the guy in the store doesn’t assist them in scanning something that they should not be assisting them in scanning.
I hope that they’re doing training, and they are from what I’ve read on their website so far, so they are cognizant of that. They certainly don’t want to hurt their suppliers.
They have the practical aspect, which is they don’t want their suppliers to say, “You’re selling things. You’re doing things to stop our sales,” because that’s the bread and butter.
Is copyright is a federal thing? Doesn’t it matter what state you’re in?
It is governed by federal law and solely by federal law. You can’t bring a copyright case or have a copyright issue that’s a state law issued. It’s all federal.
Thank you for spending some time with us. It’s been great to speak with an expert on the subject. There’s been a lot of speculation flying around this industry.
I’m glad to be here and I will follow-up and get you the information on the deposit requirements for registering the copyright on the digital file.
That was packed with information, but with where we started with the Invisalign discussion and the Align Technology issue, we are glad that the ruling is that a digital file is not an article. We feel like we’d be in this quagmire of, “Do we not file design patents on everything we do?” Derivatives become harder to reinforce. Putting our design files in copyright is a good thing for us.
There are many parallels between the 3D printing industry, digital files, and digital rights management of them that is comparable to the music industry. The music industry is a good roadmap or model to follow for how to protect digital files going forward. Digital files are not protected quite to that extent. There’s a lot of specific laws written around music to protect them, but there are many parallels between the two industries. We hope that’s where it goes.
We’re off with the opinion and the way that we should go about practicing because what are we going to do with this? We filed copyright before on a book we wrote so we know how it works and we did it ourselves to see how it was because it wasn’t too concerned about people knocking off our book. It’s a book about a penguin. It’s not exactly your most common thing that people are going to write about. We tried it ourselves and saw how it went because you hear how people are self-filing their copyrights and it was easy and cheap. They were great about it because we made a mistake and the copyright examiner sent me back an email and said, “You wanted to do this.” They were nice about it, so it wasn’t difficult to do. It is something if you can’t afford it, that you can save your fees and do it yourself.
However, this is a little muddy area and we don’t think that we should do it ourselves here because that there’s a decision to be made about STL file versus G-code in terms of what do you file the copyright for. We’re a proponent that we consider filing STL files only. The reason is because of sheet music. Think about it this way. If you write music, it’s meant to be used in general. It’s just general sheet music. It doesn’t say you can’t take those same notes and put it on a piano or put it on a guitar or play it on a trumpet. You can do that, but when we get to G-code, it’s translated into that nomenclature that’s for that instrument.
It’s specific for a machine and the way that machine works.
It’s a derivative then of the original. If we want to talk about doing what she said, which was if you want the original material, the core material, that core material is the STL file, so that’s what we should file.
You’ve copyrighted a book and that’s one thing, but how do you copyright for those of you out there that might want to file your own copyrights? How do you copyright a digital file in a proper way?
The book was easy. We printed out a PDF of it and we digitally submitted it to them. When you digitally submit, you also pay less fee than if you physically mail it in, so you want to do it that way.
We can, no matter what the path is here for what specifically is the right way to document it for the government. There’s a way to do it electronically, whether it’s a PDF or you’re sending an electronic file or you’re somehow printing out some version of the portions of the code and submitting it, but there’s a way to do it. If you’re interested, you have copyright needs and you want to know a good firm to hire, certainly, they’re a good one.
They’re huge in litigation. If we have issues, that’s the firm we talk to. They’re well-respected across the country for that. One of the things also though is when you file copyright. Maria makes the point that the minute you create it, it’s copyrighted and it’s protected. It’s not registered, but it’s protected. When do you decide to register? People should follow the same rule we follow when we consider doing design patents. We wait until it’s about ready to launch. If you’re about ready to disclose it publicly, you’re going to put it up on your pin-shaped shop or you’re going to put it up on a place like that. That’s the time to register it if you’re going to do it. That way, you don’t spend money and yet you make substantial changes to it because it happens to us all the time. That’s why we don’t file it until it’s ready to go to market.
We have made changes to it. You’re making a recommendation and it’s a good one. Certainly, people can decide to do it whenever they want to, but this is the great thing about copyright law as compared to patent law. If you don’t file a patent and you disclose your invention or your design to somebody, then you have no protection. You’ve let that cat out of the bag and you can’t unring that bell. With copyright law, you have some inherent protection and that’s a big difference, so we agree with you. We’re going to hitch our wagon to the copyright train.
We’re thrilled. It’s going to make our life a lot easier than it has been. It’s been costly and expensive with our patents. It’s incredibly difficult to litigate if or when the time comes. This makes the most sense for us in terms of how we should operate our professional design part of our 3D printing business. If you’re not a professional, this is not necessary. If you don’t plan to be making money off of your designs, even if they were copying it because they saw it on Instagram, you’re not making money off of it. You don’t have any damages. There’s no point in doing it if that’s the case.
I also don’t want to put down patents either because the reality is there are some things people are doing with 3D printing or the 3D printing portions of our entire products that are functional products and they’ve invented something new they’re doing, then that is patentable. In fact, the only way you’re going to protect a utilitarian object, something that has a new specific function, is to patent it. You have no choice there. The more that goes on in this industry with designs for print on demand applications for many things in this industry, copyright is going to be the best, cheapest, and fastest way to protect them.
I don’t want to belabor this issue. Let’s keep this focused on copyright and what’s going on, but we should have a discussion in our next Ask Us Anything. We should debate whether or not Congress should be lobbied on the 3D file commerce issue.
I’d love to have that conversation.
Let’s follow this episode up with that. Thanks for reading. Remember, if you have a guest suggestion or if you’d like to be a guest on WTFFF?!, you can send us an email, tweet us or do anything. It’s @HazzDesign or go to our websites, 3DStartPoint.com or WTFFFPodcast.com.
Our email addresses are Info@3DStartPoint.com or Info@WTFFFPodcast.com. Thanks for reading. We sure hope you enjoyed it. It was informative for us. We enjoyed it. We’ll be back next episode with another great subject.
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- @HazzDesign – Twitter
- Jaburg | Wilk
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- CEO Space International
- Sony v. Universal City Studios
- Berne Convention
- US Copyright Office
About Maria Crimi Speth
Maria practices in the areas of intellectual property, internet law, and commercial litigation, representing clients throughout the United States.
She focuses her practice on assisting businesses in protecting their trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, information technology, and other intellectual property through preventative measures to avoid disputes and through litigation when disputes arise. Phone: 602-248-1000
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