Recently published 3D print patents is today’s topic for Wild Card Wednesday – until we have a better idea of what to call it. Some of these are from major companies like Hasbro and Disney. Their PTO has published them from their applications. There is a caveat to this, because these are not patents, they are just applications for a patent.
For those of you who may not know, when you file for a patent, it is private so that nobody can look it up except for the people who filed it for about 18 months. After approximately 18 months, the patent trademark office publishes them. That’s part of the deal, you get an exclusive on this technology for a period of time, and after that passes, you agree to disclose it.
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Recent 3D Print Patents
In this case, the Disney and Hasbro patents are not issued yet, there’s no guarantee that they will issue but this is a preview into their application and to what might issue. What I like about this and the reason I wanted to address this today, is that it gives us some insight into how important these big companies are seeing 3D printing being to their future. Things are changing, so this is what they were seeing for themselves 18 months ago, so they might shelf some of these. It can happen. We’ve seen a lot of companies, we call them Rembrandts in the Attic – one of my favorite books that talks about IP, so they may not ever do anything with this. They might not have any plans to commercialize these. You can’t do it in trademark, but you can do it in patents – you don’t have to commercialize this and you don’t have to take it to market. It is still an insight into what they were thinking 18 months ago.
The first one from Hasbro is a simple little iPhone crank and scanner with a platform that you crank. So the object that you put in the center of it spins around and your iPhone is on the outside of it. As you crank it, it’s moving at an assumedly stable pace. It takes photos at every increment, we think – they leave things like that out in patents to keep it vague. This is made for kids to use it, it’s not meant for adults to use it like a professional scanner. The idea that a kid can stick any object on this, whether it’s something that they made at a craft class at school, or a favorite stuffed animal, or maybe they put their favorite action figure on it – there’s really no limit to what they could do as long as it fits on it. They can crank it, and there’s a dock on it that fits a smart phone and it takes multiple pictures as it’s going around. There’s an app that translates that into a 3D model that can then be 3D printed.
What surprises me about it, if they intend to go to market with that, how open they are being about their brands and their idea that you can scan any action figure. You open up the sort of brand opportunity to manipulate that and 3D print out something different. I think it’s great that they are thinking that way, I’m pleased.
I’m sure some people at Hasbro thought they could be opening Pandora’s box and have an open season on their brands with what people could be doing with them, but I think that they are wisely recognizing that if they try to remove their brands from 3D printing. Not openly allowing people to 3D scan their items, they will lose eventually. I think that they want kids to enjoy their toys. I don’t think they are worried about individuals in their own homes scanning things and using them for their own use. I’m sure if some kids tries to copy one of their items and sell it on eBay, they will be hearing from Hasbro.
What we don’t know is what they output is going to be. In my mind, if they’ve got in the works somewhere their own 3D printer where that scanner will only work with, or that file format is a proprietary format and they have plans for that, that would be an interesting tell. So far that’s not in this particular patent, so I don’t know where they are going with that. That might be another protectionist way of going about it and we could be completely in the wrong about where they are going with it, it’s all conjecture.
I’m hoping they have a little more open intent about it, like how the record industry fought Napster and the idea of something like iTunes and eventually they had to give in and everyone’s doing fine business wise today. It’s a sign that they are changing with the times and I’m impressed with that. It really goes hand in hand. Its interesting the timing of this coming out, of course the patent trademark office had everything to do with it, this was not just a press release. The Mattel ThingMaker announcement of that 3D printer, and Mattel has a ton of brands and they are going to be facing these same things.
You might as well address it, and address it head on. Make products that people are going to interact with your brands better and make them super fans. This thing from Hasbro looks like you could start at a really young age, maybe 6 or 7, it really doesn’t look that complicated and you can borrow your parents cell phone if you don’t have one at that young age. It makes them super fans at a very young age, so it’s valuable. As they say, any news is good news, and any way you can engage customers is a good way to increase your brand. I’m in favor of it.
Recent 3D Print Patents – Disney and Licensing
The other news that came out is that Disney, one of the biggest companies in the world, with the most licensable characters on earth, who has had the copyright laws re-written for them because they didn’t want Mickey to be in the public domain. They have had three recent patents come out and the first one that I’m going to talk about is highly technical and is about an advancement in resin printing. Which is great, but I don’t think is all that interesting to cover. The other two are covering a subject important to us, which is about protect 3D printing knock offs.
This patent is for a 3D printing process that would limit unauthorized copying or allow and 3D printed object to easily be authenticated. What they’re talking about doing is in the 3D printed process is embedding some kind of item identification element in it. I don’t know how patentable that is – I don’t know how many times we have mentioned it, but we do that already in our tools where we put marks in our plastics in our designs so it’s already there like our signature. I’d be surprised if that’s allowable, but maybe it will be. I think they could be talking about embedding something that’s more specific like an RFID tag like on clothing in stores to protect them where the little coil will set off the sensors. Like what’s setting off my cell phone, the NFC or on business cards where you put the NFC to the phone and it puts your info in there.
The point is they’ve got the idea here. Clearly Disney is very concerned about their intellectual property and they have more characters to protect than anyone, but they’re also wanting to take advantage of 3D printed technology. Think about when you take your kid to Disney Land and your child wants to get the mouse ears with their name sewn on it, and that’s a form of customizing and making it yours when you are there in the park, so why not print some character? They do want to identify if someone has bought a real one or if someone has just copied it, so I don’t see this as a bad thing.
It seems a little broad and that there might be a lot of art that exists in other ways. Tying it into 3D printing, and by the way NFC means near field communication. We got these new business cards with NFCs on them, but the current iPhone doesn’t let them work. I have an Android Amazon phone with the NFC turned on but when I flip my phone around to talk on my phone, it keeps beeping in to tell me the NFC is on so my business cards are in that section of it. So I’ve discovered I cannot keep my business cards in my phone case because it keeps making a new contact of myself for myself – it’s ridiculous.
It reminds me of something that happened last week while we were at conference, our friend Ken Courtwright of the Digital Footprint Conference, he did this thing where he had his emails and text messages to have this auto reply to say, “Hey I’m at a conference, I’m not able to reply any time soon.” Then he made the mistake of texting himself a to-do list item of something he wanted to remember, but when he did it, he got the auto reply text, which made the auto reply message reply to the auto reply text and before he knew it he had like 60 text messages of the same thing in about 10 minutes. It was a comedy of tech errors.
One more patent from Disney that I think it worth talking about is interesting and really complicated, is a 3D printer with a build plate with multiple degrees of freedom motion. Think about that. What that means is that instead of the build plate on your 3D printer staying flat and just moving up and down, this thing can tilt at different angles. I think the idea is that they want to be able to 3D print on different parts of the object and not have to use support material. So where you might have an angle where you would need support material instead you could tip the build plate at a certain point and keep 3D printing and won’t need overhang. It seems really complicated to me. Maybe they are just going to use it in their own facility on an industrial machine and not have it be an at home printer, which completely makes sense.
I do wonder, though, if this one is actually going to issue at the end of the day, because I think this is kind of obvious to someone like in a company who is making 3D printers already. They all look at, “Hey how am I going to continue to improve technically what my printer is doing?” I can guarantee that people at the 3D printer manufactures have thought of turning that bed. One of the criteria of getting a patent is that it cannot be something obvious to someone skilled in the art of making 3D printers. To me that seems a little obvious, but I do think for the right machine, that can be seen as an advantage where you don’t need support material and you can just take it off the plate ready to go, I’m in favor of that.
That’s also where the other patent of embedding an identification seems obvious, because we already do embed tags in a way. Every time we turn around Vicky Somma is sending us pictures of little things she has embedded, like that really cool kids project where they embedded all sorts of things and created this vase structure for a maker event. Embedding something into your 3D print is pretty obvious. I don’t think you can get a patent for just embedding anything into your 3D print, but it may be a narrow patent where it’s and RIFD tag only. Maybe even that’s too obvious, but only time will tell. Usually patents have been taking two to two and a half years to issue, so we should know within one more year I’d think.
It’s obvious that these large companies are working on 3D printing and working on different aspects of it like 3D scanning, and it’s time for that. In my mind they are way behind the 8 ball if they haven’t figured out what I think is bigger, is how to make it accessible to consumers. None of them have successfully have made a way where you can shop and buy 3D printed items. Some have tried kiosks and some that have tried an event or a catalogue, and yet they’ve all fallen down on not doing a great job of cooperating it into how mainstream consumers want to buy. Amazon is a perfect example of how that failed miserably in their 3D print product store and how hard it is to put up 3D print products. We’ve tried so many times. That is really where the innovation needs to happen. The tech industry is not as critically important until you figure out how you will get it to your consumers.
None of these patents are talking about that, and that is a very important piece of the puzzle. I am happy to see these big brands jumping in instead of rejecting 3D printing trying to protect their brands. It cost some money to file all these patents, they are paying expensive attorneys and filing all the PTO, there’s a lot of work involved. Even though with Disney it’s small potatoes, but it is spending some serious money. A project like that doesn’t just happen on a whim at a big corporation like that. It’s all good for 3D printing in the long run and the market in general, I just think there are a lot of bigger problems to solve so we will see how those go.
We will have to talk to Tom Simon again about the digital rights management implications of some of these patents with all the brands of Disney and Hasbro, we will have to follow up with him at some point.
- United States Patent and Trademark Office
- Patent application for Hasbro’s 3D scanner for kids
- Patent application for Disney’s embedded identfication object
- Patent application for Disney’s tilting build plate
- Digital Footprint Conference
- Vicky Somma – embedding objects
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