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It’s still debatable that 3D printing is rocking the world but when it comes to 3D print IP it is definitely shaking things up a bit. Author John Hornick shares examples of how the two sides of the 3D print industry is disrupting the status quo. The 3D print IP world is still the wild west in terms of control and we take a look into the serious need for file and 3D printing safety and creation of 3D print product standards.
We have an interesting interview today with IP lawyer and author of the book 3D Printing Will Rock the World, John Hornick. He has been writing about and in the 3D printing for quite some time many years now. He has an interesting take on it.
Listen to the podcast here:
Controlling 3D Print IP
John, thank you so much for joining us to speak about 3D print IP on WTFFF?! today. We are very excited to speak with you.
Thanks, it is my pleasure being here.
Especially because we think 3D printing is going to rock the world too, whether it has already, I think it is still debatable, but I think it will.
I agree that it will. It is already rocking the world, and I give a lot of great examples in my book of how it is doing that.
Why don’t you share just a couple quick examples with that with our audience? We’d love if they would go read your book as well, but why don’t you give them a little teaser.
The industry has two sides to it. It has a consumer side and an industrial side. The consumer side that is what most people are familiar with. They think of 3D printing as machines that print out Yoda heads. That is really a very small part of the industry and really not the most exciting part. The exciting part is the industrial side where the industrial machines, which these are machines that cost from $5,000 to $5 million.
These machines are making parts for aircraft and aerospace that is certified to fly. They are making all kinds of medical implants and medical devices and models. All automotive companies use them for prototyping. Some higher end companies are using them for production parts as well.
It has been blowing my mind for quite a while. Even though I understand it and I am involved in this industry. It still blows my mind, the things that can be done on some of these commercial grade printers.
Yes, most people aren’t really familiar with them. 3D printing is just an umbrella term for different types of the technology. In the industry, the people actually using the machines, they do not refer to the machine as 3D printers; they might refer to them as a material power jetting machine or a power bed fusion machine. There is a lot of generic terms used too.
I agree, I don’t think there is a very good clear understanding of that overall. I think it gets even more confusing when you consider the intellectual property aspects of this technology in terms of 3D print IP. You are a patent attorney, is that correct?
I think of myself as an intellectual property attorney, that is patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.
Okay. This is an area of particular interest to me and Tracy. We talk about 3D print IP all the time in the podcast. I definitely have been looking forward to speaking with you and learning your opinion and certain aspects regarding how intellectual property is affecting the 3D printing world. And also in the other direction how the realities of 3D printing are reflecting the realities of intellectual property.
That is where I want to start with that is, how you feel about that there is almost no digital border in 3D print IP. Especially with patent law, and even copyright I think is more similar in different countries, but there are still some differences with everything being electronic and transferring over the internet. The laws are really antiquated. Is the system able to benefit as it was intended to?
There is a lot of different questions there, one is what the laws are antiquated or whether they are working. I don’t think the laws are antiquated in general. There are a lot of people out there who are against intellectual property protection. They think we should do away with the IP laws or do some major reforms for 3D print IP. We have done some major reforms in this country over the past several years. I don’t really think that changing laws is truly going to have an effect with 3D printing. I talk about a concept that I developed called away from control.
Away from control means the ability to make something without anyone knowing about it or being able to control it. Basically, if you are able to make things without anyone knowing about it and being able to control it, then you can have all the laws you want. They exist and they might be applicable for anything that is made in traditional ways or made in control. If something is made away from control, the laws are there but it just isn’t really very relevant as it can’t be enforced as a practical method.
Are you talking about the idea you would be making something and nobody really knows how it is being done? More of like a proprietary method.
It could be, but it could just be you and me or anyone or it could be a company making the things that they need either from digital blueprints that they got off the internet or that they created themselves. They are making the parts that they need without anyone knowing about it. If that happens to infringe someone’s rights. It may do that. It may infringe into someone’s rights. But if it’s being done away from your control, no one knows about it. It is hard to identify it. If you can identify it, it is impractical or it’s impossible to enforce the rights.
I think that is a really good point. So much of it is like fan art. It has your brand, so does someone like Hasbro know about that? When some little girl is doing it and playing with her variation of My Little Pony herself? Kudos to her for doing it, and how is that really harming them anyway? How would they find out about it?
It could harm them because if every little girl in the world starts making their own little ponies, then Hasbro is not going to be selling any of them, it could hurt them there. If one or two people are doing it, then no, but if the numbers become large, it really has an effect on companies. Have they found out about it? They may not. If a person. Little girl or anyone else, will 3D print something is covered by someone else’s IP rights and then tries to sell it on the internet or in any other way. Then the IP owner might find out about it and they might take action against them. But if it is just something that is done for personal use or if that type of use become so pervasive that the IP owners have to have to throw up their hands and say we can’t just go up after everybody, then at that point is the IP becomes irrelevant.
I can definitely see that. I think that there has been a lot of criticism about 3D printing being dead or whatever that is. It is, I think, a little bit of a firsthand experience of it, and your first experience of it is a little rough. Like you said, there are tons of little Yoda heads and all this other stuff out there, and your first experience of 3D printing is rough. But in practicality, Tom and I know this first hand, if you try to reverse engineer or rebuild or remake some of the things that we design, it is really next to impossible.
Are we really worried about 3D printing something like such as Tom’s necktie and having somebody knock it off – have it at. It took us 200 hours. I can’t imagine how many hours it’d take for somebody to knock it off. Stealing the design file is a little bit different than that. But copying the design, to us, is like that is why we do it the way that we do it. It is difficult.
It might be difficult today, but the future is really a long time. Right now, it does take time to reverse engineer something and create a digital blueprint, and then to print it out on a home machine. Home machines are limited in what they can do. But the technology is going to get better. The analogy that I would like to make is back to the early age for computers with the DOS system. It was difficult to use. People didn’t want to use computers then because it was difficult to use.
Eventually they made them really easy to use. They eventually made them so that people don’t think them as computers anymore. Now, we use them for everything. The same thing I think will happen with 3D printing. It is just going to take a little bit of time.
That is a great point. I agree. I remember those DOS days. I was one of those early users as a kid. But it has gotten a whole lot easier. Now, when you compare that to the common iPad that even my two year old is using with some relative ease, you can’t even compare it.
The iPad is what I had in mind when I said that people don’t think of it as computers. They are so easy to use. What they are is computers and we are using them to manage our photos, our lives, and to communicate with people, and to make videos and all kinds of other things.
So as a visionary and someone who has written 3D Printing Will Rock the World, what do you think about the future of manufacturing? Is it going to be as disruptive as some people predict? Are we not going to be importing as much product from China?
I do believe that it will disrupt manufacturing in positive ways. I believe that it will cause a regionalization of manufacturing distributed all over the world. It is already happening. I think what people want to think is that when 3D printing takes hold; we are not going to have to make things in far off lands anymore. We are going to have factories here, big factories here that are full of 3D printers. But that is not what is going to happen.
The way it going to happen, the way it is already happening is in where it is called industry service bureaus. I call them fabricators. There are close to a thousand of these in the United States already. They are small business that are using 3D printers to make parts for their customers. These are things that maybe they used to be made in mass production, in low labor, low cost countries. Now they are being made in smaller production runs. They are being customized and are being made by these fabricators distributed all over the world. It is already happening. It is just happening in a different scale.
Just to put that in perspective; one half of US manufacturing companies have fewer than ten employees. 25% of US manufacturing companies have fewer than 5 employees. There is a lot of stuff being made in this country. It is just being made in small companies.
I would imagine in smaller runs, would you think as well?
That is right. One of the strengths of 3D printing is customization. You can make a one off part. That is what is being used the most right now. Some people say that it will never be suitable for mass production. There are other people who disagree with that. There are companies like HP and some others that can make machines that can make things in mass production runs. I am not sure that is really the strength of technology.
The strength is to make really complex parts, to make customized parts, to make one off parts. That is what it is being used for now.
I really like the idea of making parts that really are uniquely suited to that manufacturing process that couldn’t be made by injection molding or another kind of a traditional process. To me as a designer, that is the challenge and the fun part of it.
Yes. This idea that 3D printing will not replace injection molding, it is possible that it never will. But there are two processes out there that have interesting promise. One is a company called Carbon, they used to be called Carbon3D. They are making parts that are – and most 3D printing is layers, 3D printing layer by layer. The Carbon process, the parts come out of the machine whole and Disney has a patent application for what they call a 3D copier which makes parts whole.
Essentially what they are doing is they are making injection molded parts without a mold. They are making a part in free spaces in a vat of photo polymer for example. You are getting an instantaneously whole part. When it’s possible to do that in a larger scale, then I think this technology will be used for mass production as well.
That is fascinating. I didn’t even understand that about Carbon’s technology. I knew it was very fast but I didn’t know it was free form layers. It is still photo polymer. It still has an integrity issue in terms of making end products. That is where production has to change, the material, the longevity of the photo polymer. I understand that as an issue.
They would probably take issue with that. I saw some demonstration recently where I was very impressed by the parts that they are putting out, especially flexible parts. They seem indestructible.
No they break down over time with UV and other things. That is what we understand is that the photo polymer resins, unless there are some new ones that they develop that we didn’t understand the details of. But what we understood in general, the photo polymer resins are not as stable long term and eventually do break down.
I think that is true in general for photo polymers. I don’t know one way or another whether Carbon has solved that problem.
If they can manufacture like this, that is the next step. If they can do that, then they’ve got something really manufacturable and highly valuable. Hopefully, they are going to be working on that soon. Anyway, I want to touch base a little bit on a couple of things that you wrote back, in one of the articles you wrote about 3D printer brand killer or retail rescuer. It is one of your blogposts.
I thought what was really interesting is, you talk about democratizing manufacturing and 3D printing democratizing manufacturing. Maybe it requires a policing of your genuine products and the infringement. But that is really complicated by no borders. That is complicated in a world marketplace. I think the more interesting point that you make is the sake of brand, value, and speed. The idea that you are going to be just constantly coming up with new things all the time and that people want your authentic brand. That is really the value. That, I think, is the key to what you wrote there. That is the key to brand future. Policing 3D print IP is probably not the best use of your time, money, and energy as a company or a brand.
You are probably bright. Brands do policing now, but the potential of 3D printing is to have such a large scale of infringement or counterfeiting or whatever that happens to be. The scale can be so big that it in a practical matter; they wouldn’t be able to do the policing. There are some people believe that if a company’s brands can provide extra value so that you want that brand, then that could save them. But if they can’t provide that value, they may run into trouble as their brand becomes easily knocked off and easily 3D printed to away from control. It is up to them to find some way to provide that extra value.
I also think it also has to do with an attitude about it. Let’s take a note from the world of music. I would never download, not that I would ever do that, it is too much work anyway, but download a song from Taylor Swift because she has been so amazingly supportive of other artists and she is vocal about it, “I worked hard on this and I deserve to be paid for this.” She has been a proponent for it, and then you get to the whole situation with Katy Perry and the shark in 3D printing the Left Shark thing. It sounded petty and nasty. You think about that, your attitude towards the value that you provide and who you are and what you are giving. That has a lot to say with how your users, your fans, are going to approach you too.
I think you are right. What you said applies more on the consumer side of the industry. On the industrial side of the industry, I am not sure that we’d approach it that way. I think people will look whether if you can get a replacement part of a machine, you either got a digital blueprint and print it yourself for a whole lot less than buying the original part. Or you can buy a 3D printed part from a third party provider rather than buy it from your personal manufacturer. You are going to probably buy the cheaper part, unless that manufacturer can come up with a way to make you want to buy their part where some kind of value is added.
I think we’ve all learned a lesson on the world’s consumer product standpoint of what happens when you knock off a design in terms of just like the hover board. Hover boards are blowing up. The original design was very well designed, high end and expensive. They didn’t have this problem. We forget in a counterfeit world that they lose something, that it’s really not just a knockoff in general consumer products.
That is the danger as well in brand knockoffs or counterfeits. What if it is a dangerous version of a product? Because it is not under your control. That is where it gets scary for a lot of people.
I think so too. That is product liability and product safety law, which really isn’t my area, but I personally believe that is going to be a much bigger issue than the intellectual property problems from 3D printing.
I hope retail learned its lesson. In our experience from a consumer product standpoint, it is the retailer buyers and that part of the market that is encouraging the counterfeiting to happen. We had our own products knocked off by the retailer themselves and been unable to stop that. So that happens and it is encouraged from that perspective. But now when it becomes a liability for them as well, I think we start to reverse that a little bit.
What goes around comes around. If you have your own products that you don’t want people to copy, maybe you won’t copy other people’s products. I think there is a limit to that. People make moral choices. They say, “Well I am not going to counterfeit goods but I can make this replacement part.” Maybe it is not a counterfeit, but they make it anyway. You know, there are a lot of parts out there that aren’t protected by IP at all. The people who make them still make money to sell them. If you can start making that yourself, it can cut into their market.
I am going to ask you a question and see if you agree with it. We had a business owner who we knew and respected very much. He is at a trading company and had been bought by a large Chinese trading Company, Li & Fung. He went to some large meeting of this corporation with all the different division heads there. They had a presentation given to them by some market research company about the future of 3D printing.
They were told that all these vertical traditional manufacturing companies are going to be in trouble 15 or 20 years down the road because of 3D printing. The interesting part I want you to ask about is, they were saying what is going to be in high demand are designers to design all these products that are going to be more locally manufactured. From your experience in your readings and writings, would you tend to agree with that?
I absolutely agree with that. I have two chapters in my book on design because it is an integral part of making the most of this technology. It used to be that we had to do what is called design for manufacturing. You could design something and you can hand it to an engineer. He would say, “We can’t build that.” We don’t have that limitation with 3D printing. We can design in any way you want to design it and it can be made.
I think one; we need to have designers who are trained in designing for 3D printing. Once we have that, I think we are going to start to see designs that are fundamentally different from the designs we are used to. Designs that I think will start to become much more like Mother Nature’s designs. I give some great examples in the book of things that were 3D printed but look like they were grown rather than built. And so, more natural designs are going to creep into 3D printing and we need designers who are being taught how to design for this technology.
But more important as well though, we think that we need to have designers that understand the design process and product design safety. We are seeing a dichotomy of education right now where 3D printing is handled in one silo. Designers are coming out of a completely different silo. Maybe they have a 3D printing “here is how to use the machine” kind of class. Of course they have CAD. When you don’t bring the two worlds together and marry the product design, understanding on how to design a good product, and how to understand what users are going to go through, and product liability and safety, and all of those considerations that you need. You need a practicality of that as well.
When you do that, now designers have more freedom to actually do what you are saying which is really transcend the technology and do things that we haven’t seen before. It takes a level of competence of more than just learning the 3D printer.
I think you are right. Schools, training school, colleges, anybody that is teaching 3D printing, they really need to integrate all those issues that you are mentioning. However, if you are a designer and you just let your imagination run wild and you design something that can be 3D printed. If you start working for a company, that company is going to have all kinds of people who look at safety and certification and that kind of thing. It won’t get out the door until it is safe.
Let’s hope. You can design better. That is one the reasons why we believe we have been very successful with what we do because we spent a lot of time on the manufacturing floor understanding the constraints of manufacturing. We don’t design in a silo and sitting in front of our computer. Now you have the ability to stick that manufacturing facility right in the corner of your desk. How amazing is that? You really need to use it in that way.
Yes, that is right. There are really two things going on here. One is that machines that are used for designs so you can iterate very quickly and get a product to market much faster and you can come up with designs that take full advantage of 3D printing. Once you get the part designed, it goes over the production side of the company and it is made with a different machine and a different process or different materials.
What is your feeling on copyright law as it applies to CAD files that are being shared out there? I am not talking about creative comments. I just mean in general, do you think copyright law is adequate to protect design files, STL files, things that fall under 3D print IP that someone spends a lot of time creating?
No, I don’t think that it is adequate. People tend to think that copyright is a lot broader than it is. Copyright, I call them digital blueprints by the way, and some people call them CAD files or digital models. The digital blueprint that you create yourself from scratch for a non-utilitarian object is like a piece of art. That is going to be protected by copyright. A digital blueprint that you make of a utilitarian object, some kind of a machine part for example that may be protected by copyright. It is really not clear that it is.
If you scan a part and you don’t make any changes to that scan. Now you have a digital blue printable part that is created by scanning the part. That is not protected by copyright. If you scan that and make some modifications to it, maybe it is protected by copyright. Copyright isn’t really as broad as people think it is. It doesn’t protect digital blueprints as much as they think it does. I don’t think I see the law changing. I think that over time our intellectual property laws are going to become narrower and not broader. To protect those blueprints better or to have broader protection for those blueprints, we have to have broader laws. I don’t think that is going to happen. I think the laws are going the opposite direction.
That is somewhat disappointing to me to hear that, and not challenging your opinion but just to hear it because what has become clear to me over my career is that patent law, let’s say you have a functional item that is not protected by copyright very well. It is so expensive to try to defend your patent or to assert the rights that you may have if you have a patent or yet Tracy’s point to file a patent is so much more expensive than a copyright.
I have been hoping that at some point, the copyright law would be modified to apply more to the digital nature of how industry has gone kind of the way; it was modified to protect music in unique ways.
Well, some people would like that and some people wouldn’t. There is a lot of people out there who don’t like intellectual property at all. They’d like to see IP laws go away completely. For people who do see the value of intellectual property law and intellectual property rights, I think that the chances of seeing some kind of major changes in the law that are going to broaden the law are slim for a lot of reasons.
One is there is a movement against IP laws right now, two, the last time that there is a major change in the copyright law, they started worked on it in 1961 and enacted the law in 1976. So it takes a long time.
If we are going to wait on the government to fix things for us in this regard, we will be waiting a long time. We probably need to have a lot more lobbying money than we all have to do it. There is the argument for the speed of design. Let’s just be designing faster than they can keep up with us. We so appreciate you coming on the show John. This has been fascinating. Is there anything that you are working on the future that is related to 3D printing that we should know about?
Not too long ago, I started putting together programs to provide education to law enforcement on the positive and the negative side of 3D printing. I am hoping to be more visible in that space in the coming year.
Please keep us posted on how that is going. We love to hear from anyone who is actually dealing with those challenges. That is an interesting and new topic for our podcast. I am curious to know what law enforcement, like law enforcement on a local level or is it at a higher level?
I say at every level. I have a chapter in my book called the dark side of 3D printing. That is about how 3D printing can be used for crime. I have been approached by some major law enforcement agencies in the United States. I have also been approached by law enforcement agencies in Great Britain who are starting to train their people on what to look for, and what the risks are, and how 3D printing can be used on the dark side.
There is a lot of hype a few years ago about 3D printed guns. Just today, I saw an article that TSA found a 3D printed gun in somebody’s luggage yesterday or today. California has just enacted a law within the past couple weeks making it illegal to 3D print a gun that is undetectable. There are starting to be a lot of reasons that law enforcement needs to take a closer look at this.
I guess we don’t think about that very often and we certaintly haven’t talked about it much on the podcast. We often think of the wonderful opportunities 3D printing presents. Just because we are optimistic people, but I guess it is true with anything, it is true with the computer and internet. People are going to use it for evil reasons as well.
That is right. But let us not end on a down note. I think the technology has great potential for the world and it is really going to cause us to have new designs, bring jobs back to America, and that kind of thing. There will be some downsides. That is true for any technology.
I agree, ultimately. I don’t mean to bring our audience down. Sorry about that folks. Believe me; I am very optimistic about it. I love the opportunities presented here and that is why I am involved in this, in wanting to be a part of it so much. I suspect the same for you. It is wonderful. Thank you so much.
Wow, that is great. Thank you so much. It has been a pleasure speaking with you today.
Okay, thanks for having me.
Controlling 3D Print IP – Final thoughts
I think that the future of 3D printing is really bright. We talked a bit about that. But it still seems like the wild west out there in terms of IP, such a dark side. Immediately after this interview, I was straight to my computer and I wrote the article on 3D print guns and the new laws that were passed in California and the TSA that had found the 3D printed gun. At the time we recorded this episode, it was that day. It was like an hour or two before we recorded it that the TSA made their Instagram announcement on it.
I wrote an article for Inc. Magazine. It inspired me to write it immediately. This idea of being away from control, it is so controversial in thinking about it. The comments we got back on my blog post, my push out on Facebook, and Twitter about it, my article, it was kind of the way I feel about it, like one foot on one side and one foot on the other. Which one do we do? Which is the way to debate?
On one hand, 3D printing is a whole lot harder and people are giving it too much credit on the one hand, especially when you see the Instagram picture of what the TSA found, you realize that that gun won’t operate. But was that a smart non operational test of the TSA system? And was that even true to that? There is that flip side. It didn’t work obviously and it wasn’t going to work. Most people are going to blow their heads off making a 3D print gun, if they keep making it that way.
The other side of it is that there is a serious possibility of away from control production of guns, gun parts, under current that can happen. But at the same time, now you got somebody highly skilled who had to learn. You are going to have to come into contact with people at some point. Shouldn’t there be some kind of trail? Do I think it is possible for a lone wolf person to completely do it on their own? Well, sure, I do. To create a 3D printed gun that will actually work, yes sure. It is a big and serious project. I don’t know how small that thing will end up being depending on the material you make it out of. There are so many dicey issues in all this stuff.
Away from control, I thought was a great phrase to think about a lot of the issues around 3D print IP, like we talk about the testing standards for products that are obviously not so controversial that people are going to be downloading files and printing themselves. Remember when we talked even with Hector Berrebi, about all the testing they had to do the things for the Lowe’s stores. Away from control, there is so much of it that is away from control. There are no standards.
That is the thing, is that it is substandard. That is a part that is scary and at the same time it is self sufficient and self controlling in my mind right now. It is self correcting a little bit. If you think about it this way, so you are going to print out my designs and you don’t have my settings. You don’t have my machine, you don’t have the materials that I am using, and you don’t have any of that. Chances are pretty good you are not going to be a successful doing it as I am. We spend a hundred hours dialing in the settings and design of ours.
Maybe you can take the time to do that. But if you take the time to do that, then you are defeating the purpose of trying to shortcut and steal my design. It is kind of like, so then do I really care? I already moved on to the next design anyway. So there is part of that in that situation. On the 3D print gun side of things, I think about it as like how dumb are you if you trust the file on the internet? Are you going to be the one to test that gun out? Because I wouldn’t. You’ve got a blueprint out there and it says it will work, but do you trust it? Seriously, we downloaded stuff that gets five stars and says, “Oh yeah, it prints beautifully on the printer,” and the thing falls apart and turns into like a bird’s nest mess.
It is very interesting too, because as we put out our 3D printed coffee sleeve onto Thingiverse, a lot of people downloaded it and printed it. It was designed to be printed on our 3D printer that we have here and it prints just fine and it works great. We have all sorts of people telling us that they printed it but it doesn’t fit in any coffee cups. It doesn’t fit the coffee cups at my Starbucks. I don’t know what kind of coffee cups you have at your Starbucks, but every Starbucks in the United States that I have experienced, it fits.
My point is, you are right. There are things that happen that don’t quite translate either in a scale perspective or just what slicing software you are using. So many different things that won’t translate, so something that works for somebody else is not guaranteed. Not only not guaranteed, it is far from a certainty that it is going to work well in your environment.
In the case of 3D printing gun parts, be safe to actually fire and use. That is where you get into this maybe in a self controlling, and they blow themselves up. I don’t want to be crass about it, but that is the reality of it. It is a dangerous undertaking to begin with, be away from control, because you can’t really contact us and get dialed in information. If you start asking those questions, we start thinking, “Huh, what are you doing with our file?” You can’t ask those questions or you are not away from controlling anymore.
So many things have happened in the media since we recorded this interview. The state of California passed a law and considering making a 3D printed gun completely illegal. Making it the idea that you would even, I mean they are trying to have control over things that you would potentially make on your 3D printer. Actually, they made it legal. Here is why. I think this is really interesting. They made it legal but you must register it. So 3D printed guns are actually treated like a normal type of firearm here in the state of California. You must register them; they must have the registration license number marked within it. That means they are under control from being sold. You must do a background check in order to sell it to someone. It is now under regulation. The thing is that it sounds like crazy and stupid. Who is going to do that?
The issue is now that it is registered and regulated as a firearm, now when it happens in a crime, they can charge them with a crime. Prior to that, it is not really a firearm and it is not a crime. Right, what they have done is they made it so you can use existing laws on the books to prosecute someone who commits a crime using a 3D printed gun. I found it interesting that here is the one of the first times in the United States that a state government has created a law specifically about something potentially that you might make on your 3D printer.
It is not actually the first time; there are couple other states that have done it as well. When I was doing research for the article for Inc, there are a few states out there that have done it as well. It is not prevalent yet, but this stuff is bound to happen. This is the thing; John is working directly with law enforcement to start to figure out what these regulations need to be for 3D print IP. You need to work with a legal system as well.
If you are going to make it, then they are going to need to regulate it. That is what is going to happen here. While we all love to be out of government control, I am sure that there is a bunch of you out there who think that way. The reality is that at the end of the day, when it becomes a danger, somebody is going to be liable. That is the way for them to handle it. In today’s world when we look at what is happening with digital hacking, we let it go too long before we really took control of this and started to figure out what is the policy, the procedure, what happens when emails get hacked?
We have rules in this country for handling the documents that were stolen. We can publicize anything that is hacked and then doesn’t consider it stolen and we can prosecute people on it? There is a whole bunch of legalities that haven’t caught up to the digital reality, especially in terms of 3D print IP. I respect John Hornick’s opinion and he certainly had his feelings on it as to how intellectual property always apply to 3D printing today and I wish that there was some event like here we have had an event. Somebody made a 3D printed gun and tries to take it on board an airplane. TSA caught it. This rings all kinds of alarm bells and makes all the authorities give it serious attention right now. It makes the law makers give it serious attention on how they are going to regulate it and handle it and make sure that we have laws that will apply and we can protect the general public. But at the same time we need to make sure this doesn’t fall into a gap where it can’t be prosecuted.
There hasn’t been an event yet that is really forcing the 3D print IP issue like that with intellectual property. It is only a matter of time and it is going to happen. Stanford University has that copyright legal fund thing going on there that was involved in the Shepherd Ferry project, an advocacy group that even got lawyers that are prosecuting cases and trying to push that agenda. At some point, there will be a 3D print case study and there will be things that will happen and it will create a precedent for 3D print IP.
The thing is that I am not so sure that I think it matters to me at the end of the day whether 3D print IP laws are narrower or broader. I don’t think it matters to me at all, because the speed of digital changes is so high and the speed of our designability is also so high. So, as long as we keep that up and the reality is that by the time something is out there, it is selling. People are knocking it off. You and I have already moved on. That is the reality of our world for a really long time. The realities of retail, by the time someone or a factory sees what is on the shelf and selling on retail, it is already practically past its lifespan.
I don’t know if Tom agrees with me on this one though. It takes us a long time to come up with a really good design. There are a lot of hours spent. It is not that speedy to create a high quality design. I’m talking about how the speed of design is way beyond by the time where marketing and getting it out there, and it starts to get enough attention by which it gets knocked off. We are already on to the next design by months. We are always ahead of that cycle. When we look at our retail cycle for our retail products like our office chairs and the designs we have done in juvenile furniture and even the bean bag designs, by the time they are hitting the market, we are already on two seasons ahead in terms of fabrics, colors, and materials. We are way ahead of it. Knock off, okay. The American consumer doesn’t want to buy that by the time it gets to the market.
I think I am sort of more in favor of digital on demand in 3D printing and purchase of products that are more virtual inventory that we have always talked about and having them printed for consumers. People downloading files to print for themselves or selling a file that is going to be downloaded to me is just still too easy just like the digital music thing at one point. We either have to make them so inexpensive as files to sell that it’s easier to be able to pay $3 or $4 for the file instead of making it for themselves because it will take so much longer.
I think that it is not a matter of it coming down in price because that can happen. But it is a matter of somebody has to invest in that platform because there has to be enough of a market for it and no one is investing in design. Until that happens, why should I be giving away my designs without a market? If there is a marketplace for it and it is a sustainable business for me, then I am happy and anxious to do it.
If that means the design $5 instead of $500, fine. But it is just a matter of there is no marketplace because there is no one investing in design. That is for sure. We got all this convoluted discussion with John and we carried it afterwards. I hope you enjoyed this discussion on 3D print IP.
- 3D Printing Will Rock the World
- 3D printing: Brand killer or retail rescuer? – Article by John Hornick
- Guns: The Dark Side of 3D Printing Arrives in Reno Airport – Tracy’s Inc. article
- California law banning the creation of 3D printed guns
- 3D Start Point Posts on 3D Print IP and Copyright Issues
About John Hornick
John has been a counselor and litigator in the Washington, D.C. office of the Finnegan IP law firm (one of the large IP firms in the world) for over 30 years, where he has litigated close to 100 IP cases. John founded Finnegan’s 3D Printing Working Group and advises clients about how 3D printing may affect their businesses. John frequently speaks and writes on 3D printing and has been recognized as a thought leader in this space. He is the author of the book, 3D Printing Will Rock the World, which won a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association and has been called a “must-read” offering “rare insight into how 3D printing is redefining what can be designed and manufactured.”
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