Beth, this is very similar to the Open Source Software (OSS) situation. Software is distributed with a license, such as the Apache License from the Apache Software Foundation. This license states that you have the right to use the software, redistribute it, create derivative works, etc. in perpetuity. It grants copyright and patent rights. If you initiate any patent litigation in relation to the Work (as they call it) then your rights under the license are terminated. You can sell prodcuts created from the work, etc., but cannot restrict use of the Work itself. This is probably going to have to be a model for the 3D printing/manufacturing world.
One thing that is different is the way people may make money off of OSS as compared to 3D objects. In OSS, companies make money adapting the software to particular applications, and primarily by providing support and testing. Linux, the biggest OSS "product" is available free from many non-profit different sources, but can also be obtained from established companies as well (Oracle is an example). I wonder what the equivalent to providing support is going to be for 3D design objects.
This is an interesting development and probably speaks to the "maturity" of the technological innovation landscape, that legal wrangling can begin so early in the development process. As you said in your article, "Let the games begin". One would hope that legal battles don't prove to be too much of an entanglement to the successful deployment of these technologies.
@Naperlou: I'm not sure this is really like an open source license. This patent is for some sort of digital rights management system that would actually curtail access to the 3D design. Of course, who needs if it will ever be implemented, but it does raise some interesting questions.
I have spent enough time in software to be absolutley terrified about the prospect of any type of "control" on a CAD model. One need only look at the what happened to a site that supported an educational blog with 1.5 million users. A single user posted an old test that was stuck in a chache. A DMCA takedown notice dropped the entire site. The nightmare scenario is that a single "illegal" screw can render an entire automobile, aircraft or even a factory unworkable. While the security software may work great for stopping, it is not so great for telling you what the "offending" part is. When seconds count, the last thing you want is for engineers to argue with lawyers for weeks.
At IMTS this year, there a was a cadre' of new 3D scanners which could quickly copy any part, make a model and send the data to a machining center or rapid prototype system in order to produce clones of the original right down to the highest tolerances. Parts which can take engineers years to design and develop can now be dupilcated in polymers and metals mere minutes. Can this technology be controlled? I'll predict, no, not a chance now. We are moving at the speed of the internet and the RP, SLA, genie is out of the bottle. Welcome to the new paradigm of manufacturing. Materials and processes will be king while design will be secondary, if not even a commodity within a few years.
Here's the thing, though: as I understand it, it is not legal to copyright a physical object under US law or most Western nations. So, under current law, there is no legal way to stop someone from measuring some custom part or widget down to the last mircon, and creating a near-perfect copy. With the exception of brand-specific markings -- making fake Harley-Davidson *parts* would be legal (as long as they weren't sold as "authentic"), but those same parts including the H-D logo would violate trademark law, as I understand it, although copyright law would not apply.
Until recently, however, the cost of making such a high-fidelity copy was quite high, except for large-scale operations that could make back the startup costs on volume. Now, though, with the effect of Moore's Law on desktop-level 3D printing and scanning technology, those costs are dropping rapidly. The abiliity to distribute production-quality blueprints over the internet is another factor. And that's making patent-holders nervous.
So putting DRM into 3D printers would seem like it does not have a legal leg to stand on, strictly speaking. But we could see some sort of private "corporate alliance," rather like scanners that will refuse to scan dollar bills, or the "fingerprints" that many brands of inkjet printers add to their prints without the owner's knowledge.
Of course, this gets us right into murky waters. Like DMCA takedowns of Youtube videos where people are singing "Happy Birthday," what happens if DRM culture is allowed to infect the nascent mass 3D-printing market? Will corporate interests try to block our tools from printing items that are "too similar" to existing items on the market? Will they "phone home" to "Righthaven 2.0" if we try to print something we're not "supposed" to?
Open-source tools can probably get around this, the same way that Linux allows people to watch DVDs without paying the MPAA for the "privilege." But there's still the spectre of government regulation -- we've recently seen the legal grey area that 3D-printing firearms or components thereof falls into. What happens if (when?) the government decides to require that any 3D printer is legally required to have built-in blocks against printing anything "too similar" to a blacklist of components? And corporate interests begin lobbying Congress for protection from "material property piracy"?
I know intellectual rights are important to developement of some cool stuff and let's face it, I like my name on patents, but sometimes this stuff gets so in depth when it comes to who came up with what when, I don't know if it's all worth it.
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