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Patents Printer The Courts Hardware

3D Printing May Face Legal Challenges 316

angry tapir writes "A coming revolution in 3D printing, with average consumers able to copy and create new three-dimensional objects at home, may lead to attempts by patent holders to expand their legal protections, a paper from Public Knowledge says. Patent holders may see 3D printers as threats, and they may try to sue makers of the printers or the distributors of CAD (computer-aided design) blueprints, according to digital rights group Public Knowledge."
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3D Printing May Face Legal Challenges

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  • Worried? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:00AM (#34195198) Homepage

    Right, because a lumpy plastic copy of an item is just as good as the real thing....

    • Re:Worried? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:01AM (#34195210)

      Right, because a lumpy plastic copy of an item is just as good as the real thing....

      Well, your wife told me that she actually thinks its better.

    • by dcviper ( 251826 )

      Yeah, well just because they are not very good reproductions now doesn't mean anything. Cassette tapes copied from the radio weren't all that great either. RIAA didn't get really worried until we were able to make unlimited perfect copies for essentially nothing, then distribute them around the world. All that aside, call me when the technology does get that good - I want a AR-15 full-auto sear and selector assembly, and it seems like it would be way less risky to make one then to buy one.

      • Re:Worried? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning@netzero. n e t> on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:53AM (#34195570) Homepage Journal

        The concern wasn't that "we" were able to make unlimited perfect copies for essentially nothing. The real threat was that there was no need for an expensive recording studio to make fairly decent audio recordings and that many performers wouldn't have to go through the studio system in order to get their music "published".

        Let's get the situation nailed down here. It was people going to concerts with tape recorders and other recording devices, as well as cameras in movie theaters that were the first areas that the **AA got serious about copyright enforcement against ordinary consumers and more casual kinds of copying that in earlier years was considered "fair-use".

        Yes, there has been problems with peer-to-peer filesharing and people setting up web pages of all of their favorite MP3 files saying "here is some music I ripped off my favorite CD... have at it". They make a whole bunch of bluster about that fact, but it really isn't impacting their bottom line all that much and in fact such distribution amounts to mainly marketing rather than actual lost sales.

        In terms of damage done, it is the recordable CD that has scared the RIAA much more than network distribution of music. They are being cut out of the loop and simply are no longer involved with the production and distribution of a fairly substantial amount of music, where they are also losing market share and suffering from sales simply because the stuff they are producing is garbage. Another huge problem facing "the music industry" (as represented by the RIAA) is that new talent is being skipped over and ignored. About the only way for them to get fresh blood into the industry any more is some extravagant thing like American Idol, which still skips over a whole bunch of journeymen musicians who are fairly decent but not good enough to go all of the way to the top.

        I think guys like Simon Cowell "gets it" that there are whole groups of talent that aren't getting recorded any more, even if I think his methods for finding talent are mostly showmanship rather than fixing the problem. Some major industry execs also get the problem, but not all of them, and certainly not the RIAA lawyers or for that matter those making the decisions on where to push back within the RIAA, especially as the RIAA isn't going to be making money (getting more dues paid. hence getting larger salaries) if they change tactics to embrace network distribution as a way of life and something good for the industry. Instead, they are simply fading away to irrelevance. Good for them, too, as we really don't need blood sucking lawyers like that anyway.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Builder ( 103701 )

        RIAA didn't get really worried until we were able to make unlimited perfect copies for essentially nothing

        Really? Because I'm pretty sure the RIAA were behind the whole 'Home taping is killing music' campaign - they seemed plenty worried from where I was sitting.

      • Re:Worried? (Score:4, Informative)

        by VolciMaster ( 821873 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @10:20AM (#34195854) Homepage

        I want a AR-15 full-auto sear and selector assembly, and it seems like it would be way less risky to make one then to buy one.

        If 3D printers printed metal, that may be true. Of course, some of the now-entry-level "home" CNC machines can do this

      • Re:Worried? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by delinear ( 991444 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @11:57AM (#34196960)
        I've said this before, only partly in jest, that if we ever get to the point where it's possible to create a Star Trek type replicator, far from triggering a Utopia, the project would get nuked from orbit by IP lawyers.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by eleuthero ( 812560 )
          Somehow, I think that the end result would be something along the lines of the printer industry now. There are a few big players who make a bundle off of the ink. Other players get in with replacement ink using refilled cartridges that (at least in my experience) have a tendency to leak over time. IP lawyers will complain, but again with relation to existing technology, Sony (or someone like them) will sell MP3s (or blueprints) on the one hand and ripping software (or 3D scanners) on the other while complai
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Joce640k ( 829181 )

        Assuming we can increase resolution get rid of the lumps, it's still going to be very difficult to change the material.

        Very few materials will form solids from liquids by shining lights on them and most objects are made of multiple materials, eg. you'd never be able to print a working cassette tape, a toy car, a computer mouse.

        At best you'll be able to make things like a new case for your remote control after you drop it. Even then it's unlikely to be exactly the same color and feel as the original.

    • Depends on the item. I, for one, would like a printer capable of producing the plastic drive-bay covers that go in the front of a particular model of computer case.
    • Re:Worried? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ephemeriis ( 315124 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:44AM (#34195472)

      Right, because a lumpy plastic copy of an item is just as good as the real thing....

      Nobody is going to printing up an HD TV anytime soon, that's true. But that does not suggest that there is no room for existing 3D printers to step on toes.

      You could probably print up something fairly similar to a LEGO brick right now. Or, if not LEGO, then a DUPLO certainly. And there's definitely money to be had there. I don't know that you could really make money printing your own bricks and selling them... But you could probably save some money by printing your own bricks instead of buying them. Especially if you just need a couple more to finish out a project and you don't really want to buy a whole kit or pay for shipping & handling on just a couple pieces.

      You could also probably use a 3D printer to generate a mold out of plastic or wax or something, and then cast something inside it. Imagine being able to turn out your own lead/plastic/pewter/whatever miniatures. Games Workshop would pitch a fit.

      And then there's all the licensed merchandise... Probably wouldn't be too hard to turn out some cheap beads or pendants or rings with various licensed characters on them, only without actually paying anybody for the likeness.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by sgbett ( 739519 )

        Replicating citadel miniatures is pretty simple for anyone with the inclination to do so. Even full of the incompetence of youth I managed to knock out a few extra space marines when I was a kid for the cost. Fair use? Maybe not, but I didn't have the cash to go buy them so they weren't lost sales either.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Teancum ( 67324 )

        I have heard about some attempts to do some 3D printing of simple integrated circuits... essentially something like the early 7400 series chips. It might be nice to be able to print out a couple 7402 circuits or something similar. There would be some advantage to that, even if a good programmable logic chip of some kind is likely to give you much better performance at a fraction of the cost for any kind of complex circuit.

        As far as Lego bricks, I think any sort of patent has experied on them, although the

        • I'm not talking about some rival company starting up a 3D printing business and trying to out-sell LEGO or whoever. I'm talking about printing it yourself, at home.

          Copyright law was originally intended to deal with rogue publishers. Somebody getting their own printing press and rolling out thousands of copies of some book. Or pressing thousands of discs for some new bit of software.

          But with the advent of ebooks, and desktop publishing, and relatively cheap printers, and photocopiers, and CD burners, and

      • Re:Worried? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @11:07AM (#34196372)

        I built one of the MakerBot plastic 3D printers (from the kit). I can print LEGO blocks without a problem (not that I would though, I've got far more important things to build like plastic prototypes before I send the SketchUp file off to be milled from a piece of steel/aluminum).

      • LEGO Bricks (Score:3, Informative)

        by jameskojiro ( 705701 )

        Don't order them from the LEGO website, use the BrickLink site to buy them used and far cheaper that using a reprap to make them.

    • Re:Worried? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by andrewbaldwin ( 442273 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @10:22AM (#34195872)

      I know you meant it rhetorically but...

      I can see some markets being worried -- I'm looking with particular bitterness at the car parts business.

      A few years ago I had a headlamp work loose on my car. On inspection the problem was the failure of a small (possibly deliberately feeble) plastic bracket which looked like it suffered a fatigue fracture. I had both parts which fitted together nicely but there was no hope of a simple repair with adhesive.

      The cost for the replacement part (which had all of about 5p worth of plastic) was something like £15 [IIRC]. The car manufacturer, dealer and third party parts suppliers knew that their customers had to buy replacements, knew that the plastic part was sufficiently weirdly shaped to avoid work-arounds and knew that repair shops didn't care how much it cost as they could just pass it onto the customer. They were delighted that they could get away with charging such extortionate amounts.

      Now fast forward to a case where the parts could be glued together (the strength doesn't matter) and then scanned / reprinted. Although it wouldn't be economical to get the printer for one single repair, a corner-shop facility charging, say £2.50 -- even as much as £5.00 -- would make themselves a nice return (and reach break-even quickly) and people like me would be happy with a significant saving.

      This is the scenario which the vested interests would like to kill off.

      • Your scenario I would argue is where their intellectual property rights should hold up. If people are making their stuff for a profit, then that should be illegal. Of course, IP rights should expire in like 3 years to reflect the pace of innovation. The current laws are made to reflect innovation rates and methods of the early 20th century. Fucking lawyers need to be whipped. Sorry, that last part is my legal Turet's kicking in.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Teancum ( 67324 )

        This is also where an "open source" type fabrication model would be even more beneficial, as you would have some people with a little bit of expertise in the area that would look at this bracket and perhaps make some minor tweaks to the design (which would move it out of any patent claims because it is a different part) and make a bracket that would hold out much, much longer including suggested materials that are different than the "planned obsolescence" parts designed to deliberately fall apart.

        Then again

    • Re:Worried? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @10:23AM (#34195898) Journal
      As one who uses this technology on a daily basis, I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment. 3D printing is not a 1:1 substitute for finished parts made by other, more widely practiced methods. The results from FDM, SLS, SLA, EBM, and other methods can be good, but unless the finished part is meant to be manufactured using those methods, the printed versions are generally inferior by many measures to the real thing made by machining, injection molding, casting, stamping, etc.

      Also, as with paper printers, the quality you get from a rapid prototyping machine tends to be directly proportional to the cost of the machine and the materials. Most rapid prototyping technologies can't produce the tight tolerances needed for parts to fit together, or fine features like threads and snap features. In the end, what you get is a rough part that will often need some finish operations. I mean no offense to the team behind the MakerBot and other projects, but the output from those devices is more like a casting than a finished part.

      The class of parts for which rapid prototyping is a suitable manufacturing method is very small. Look around you at the stuff you interact with every day: very little of it can be made at any reasonable cost or quality using rapid prototyping.

      And even if rapid prototyping, as a technology, could produce quality imitations of common parts, it only becomes an issue when the technology becomes ubiquitous. I don't mean when every half-assed machine shop has one; I mean when every household has one just like they have a inkjet or laser printer. Even then, I doubt that we'll see much impact, because the cost of the materials will still be high (think of the cost of paper and ink), and the production time is still very long, compared to how things are mass produced today. The cost to duplicate and transmit a CAD model may be low, but the costs to create that CAD model and manipulate it are relatively high, and it still costs a lot, in time and material, to produce it in the real world. When it comes to physical parts, there isn't any comparison to an iPod holding 10,000 CDs' worth of music.

      Do people think that music piracy would have taken off if everyone still used CD players, blank CD-Rs cost $5/ea, a music ripping computer cost $2,000, and CD-burners were limited to 0.5x speed? The ubiquity of (paper) printers and the easy availability of soft copies of books hasn't meant that book binders are going out of business. The physical book industry is hurting, true, but not because huge numbers of people are printing off their own pirated copy of the latest best-seller.

      Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the cost of these printers and their materials will drop like a stone, just as it did for desktop printers. I really doubt it, however.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Jon Abbott ( 723 )

        Even then, I doubt that we'll see much impact, because the cost of the materials will still be high (think of the cost of paper and ink), and the production time is still very long, compared to how things are mass produced today. The cost to duplicate and transmit a CAD model may be low, but the costs to create that CAD model and manipulate it are relatively high, and it still costs a lot, in time and material, to produce it in the real world.

        Very good point. We recently purchased a Stratasys uPrint 3D printer at work and realized that the sample objects it prints (like a crescent-style wrench with working worm gear) cost $12 in materials to make. While I imagine that the model and support material cost will eventually go way down, at this time it is the same price (or cheaper) to buy the real thing. The real benefit to such a device is that you can create objects that don't currently exist.

      • Re:Worried? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning@netzero. n e t> on Thursday November 11, 2010 @11:14AM (#34196448) Homepage Journal

        Most of the machine shops near where I live right now have 3D printers to make the rough blanks for whatever it is that they are working with. They will print the part and then take it to a lathe or some other machine to do some final milling, but they are already using the process to speed up the fabrication process for more obscure parts. The high precision tolerances aren't necessary in every dimension for every part, and a 3D printer sometimes will provide more consistency for some aspects that traditional machining methods don't always perform.

        I can find analogs to this with early CD-R recorders and the expensive blanks like you were talking about here. When blank CD-Rs cost about $5 each (about the upper limit I ever saw, and that was usually just the retail price in a computer store... even then wholesale costs were cheaper) it was still at a price point that a small garage band could burn a copy of their music and hand them out to fans, friends, and perhaps make a little bit of money on the side. It took somebody who was skilled with the equipment to make the CD recordings, but it did happen. That is pretty much where 3D printing is right now.

        The problem is that the 3D printers used by these machine shops typically cost in the tens of thousands of dollars range, not just a couple thousand. It also takes more technical skills to use the stuff produced by these printers including access to some more specialized tools as the part coming straight off the printer isn't being used all of the time. Perhaps this will eventually get fixed and the resolution for the "voxels" (3D equivalent of a pixel) will improve over time. I've seen that with 2D scanning technology and printing, so I see that as a definite possibility.

        • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

          The first DVD recorder cost in the UK over 20,000GBP which Google tells me is around 32,000USD. I cannot remember what the blanks cost, but I do remember they only had a capacity of 3.95GB, and the burner was only good for around 1,000 discs. That was circa 1998, wind forward 12 years and a burner is under 20GBP now does all formats including dual layer.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Teancum ( 67324 )

            The first DVD recorder that I had access to had a serial number of three digits and cost about $10k. The salesman I talked to at the time said it was one of the first ones sold in the Western USA. The blanks at the time cost the company I was working for about $10 each. There was no mention in terms of the number of discs it would produce, but we had contracts in hand to mass produce DVDs once we had the original data formatted properly to make them for about $1 each in quantities of about 1000 and sugge

    • by sznupi ( 719324 )

      What isn't made of a lumpy plastic nowadays?

  • Pretty pathetic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:00AM (#34195200)
    Pretty pathetic. Why not sue the makers of lathes and hand tools - people might make patented things with them too.
    • Re:Pretty pathetic (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:07AM (#34195244)

      It's just another power grab. The point of the patent system (before it was subverted!) was to get ideas out in to the wild. Rather than keep secret how to make something, the idea was to give the inventor protected status for making AND selling the object; the right of the private citizen to make the thing and NOT sell it is also included. That's the quid pro quo : the public learns of innovations faster, the private seller gets protection. But like many things in the legal realm, people only pick the parts they like. The obvious question in an open source world is whether the private citizen can give away rather than sell a patented "something" thereby under-cutting the whole market. Bahhh doesn't matter, software should be under copyright not patent anyway.

      • Patents were good for the private sector competitors, too, in that within X years they could start doing their own version as the patent expired. It meant that breakthroughs were disseminated through the market, instead of being sat on as trade secrets.

        • Of course now the breakthroughs aren't actually explained in the patents and are merely vaguely and broadly described in a general sense in the patent because if there is any requirement that the patent actually give enough information to build the invention it apparently isn't enforced.

          So they get protection without actually giving away any meaningful information.

    • by gandhi_2 ( 1108023 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:35AM (#34195436) Homepage

      The only legitimate use of the chisel is to infringe on intellectual property!

      That is why, even today, Canada levies a 10 cent "piracy tax" on stone plates.

  • by Drakkenmensch ( 1255800 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:00AM (#34195202)
    Expect cardboard, glue and scissors to become "illegal patent infringement tools" soon, as well as pen and paper to be outlawed as "instruments of the law-breaking paragraph men."
  • Okay... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Kokuyo ( 549451 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:01AM (#34195208) Journal

    This is surprising how?

    Of course manufacturers and IP-holders will not be amused when you can suddenly make your own product or part that you'd otherwise have to buy for lots of cash.

    They'll win that battle just as easily and decisively as the content industry has won its battle against filesharing and copying... Oh, wait.

  • it did with religion during the dark ages. Thank Odin you don't get burned alive these days, just sued into bankruptcy. Perhaps we should stop this whole technology thing. Or better yet, innovation in its whole. Or jail smart people. Prohibit brains? There must be a way to stop this copying!
    • Thank Odin you don't get burned alive these days, just sued into bankruptcy.

      That's only because the RIAA haven't had its way with the legal system as far as they'd like it to go, of course. They're keeping something special in reserve for those regular folks who can't afford to pay 7-digit settlements...

  • Tuff. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ickleberry ( 864871 )
    I can imagine in a few years 3D printers will be capable of printing perfectly good weapons.

    No doubt governments will try to force the printers to incorporate some sort of DRM that will make them refuse to print out a gun, and this will fail just like every other initiative that involves making equipment refuse to do what it's owner wants to use it for.
    • by Chrisq ( 894406 )

      I can imagine in a few years 3D printers will be capable of printing perfectly good weapons. No doubt governments will try to force the printers to incorporate some sort of DRM that will make them refuse to print out a gun, and this will fail just like every other initiative that involves making equipment refuse to do what it's owner wants to use it for.

      Daggers, knives, etc. Yes. Guns would at very least need a number of parts to be made then assembled. Also the ammunition could not be printable, as it would need explosives. Unless there is some drastic improvement in the types of materials that can be printed I would think that it would require a special low charge bullet, and be a single-shot throw-away device.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by arivanov ( 12034 )

        You can make a single shot throw away device (and a pretty powerful one) out of plumbing supplies available from B&Q, Praktiker or any other DIY shop in about 10 minutes. Even easier if you live on the continent and have access to stainless steel pipes. Why bother with printing even if the printer could produce a functional one?

        Same goes for prohibiting printing on these grounds. What's next? Making plumbing a licensed profession which requires a a security clearance and supplies being available only fr

        • What's next? Making plumbing a licensed profession which requires a a security clearance and supplies being available only from a licensed shop?

          The console makers have already done this to video game programming. GNU project founder Richard Stallman has written a short story predicting a worst-case scenario [] in which other kinds of programming meet the same fate, all in the name of DRM.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          What's next? Making plumbing a licensed profession which requires a a security clearance and supplies being available only from a licensed shop?

          Don't give them any ideas. They just did a bunch of full scale SWAT style raids on barbershops in Florida (I believe the count was 19) where they handcuffed the barbers while they searched the premises for violations of the barber license and for illegal items (drugs, weapons, etc). All without a warrant, since a barbershop is subject to such searches by the Department of Licenses (who just happened to bring along local cops and the DEA). It was a great success, they found three instances of mimor amounts o

        • Take a look at Haiti to see how efforts to control plumbing fittings so as to prevent their usage to make improvised firearms works out.


        • "You can make a single shot throw away device (and a pretty powerful one) out of plumbing supplies "

          A friend of mine made a .22 single shot nylon pistol with only a spring and the firing pin out of metal.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Teancum ( 67324 )

        All this implies is that there is still going to be a need for a good mechanic and the need perhaps for resources outside of the realm of what can be directly made by a 3D printer.

        There was a toy manufacturer in America (back when such things still were made in America) who made a nearly perfect replica of a Colt .45 handgun out of plastic, complete with plastic bullets. They made hundreds of thousands of these things, and kids who were hooked on Cowboy movies & television shows during the era bought t

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I think it will be more than a few years. RP as it is now is pretty much limited to low melting point plastics and some niche applications with metals/ceramics where you have to machine the finished parts afterwards: basically the surface finish is terrible and the precision is middling.

      If you're talking about edged weapons then it's far easier to just make them by hand. If you mean guns, lots of guns, you'll probably need a CNC milling machine. The trouble is if you can afford one of those you can a) just

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by EdZ ( 755139 )
      Maybe not additive 3D printers (FMD, SLS and the like*), but a CNC converted mini-mill can already easily make most of the parts needed for a pretty advanced firearm, and the few parts it can't (e.g. springs, rifled barrel) can either be bought as generic parts or created by simple hand-tooling. This has been the case with hand-operated mills for a good few decades, so the ability to create a gun from raw materials in your own home is nothing new.

      * Though you could use these to form wax parts for rough c
    • by sukotto ( 122876 )

      There are cases of government initiatives working really well though. Take, for example, the anti-currency DRM they have installed in every (?) consumer-grade printing device.

      When it *really* matters to them, the government can be highly effective.

  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:07AM (#34195250)

    Just as designs are copyrighted now, the designs to create product knock offs with your replicator will also be subject to those same rules. Owning a replicator and building stuff for yourself won't be a problem, but if you upload a design that is essentially a copy of a product, you will get in trouble. Likewise, if you start replicating such goods and distributing them, you will be in trouble.

    There really isn't anything new here. The best analogy isn't books or music, but rather stained glass lamps. Artists who design such lampshades guard the IP very aggressively. They prosecute frequently when someone is creating knockoffs. They hand number each sold design to reduce copying. And they add customer-specific details that make it easy to track down leaked designs.

    Same thing can be expected with these replicators.

    • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:14AM (#34195290) Homepage

      It's just like the printing press or the tape recorder or the photocopier or the CD burner. Another replication device, another panic about how it will be used.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) *
        Yes those panics were silly, but a Star Trek style replicator would create a gigantic social upheaval, physical tokens of value such as gold and cash would be essentially worthless. The only things left to trade would be time and talent. Now that I think about it, the "gigantic social upheaval" might be a GoodThing(TM)...
        • by Shark ( 78448 )

          It'd be wonderful but you'd likely need some sort of extremely cheap energy for this paradigm to work well.

          • It'd be wonderful but you'd likely need some sort of extremely cheap energy for this paradigm to work well.

            Not huge amounts. Your input is still raw matter pushed through the replicator. Just like the transporter - matter goes in one side & the same mass come out the other side. The only difference is that you use a static template to handle the energy->matter reconstruction instead of a live scan.

            OK that was more than geeky enough for 1 day.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Teancum ( 67324 )

              Unfortunately that has little to do with real teleportation. The teleportation currently being done is reproducing the exact quantum state of something else and moving essentially a perfect copy including the quantum entanglement properties of all of its components to another location. This is being done today about one atom at a time, and I'm not really sure how complex it has been able to get, but a water molecule is about the best you can hope for if you are real lucky. Perhaps that will improve over

        • Actually I don't believe the panics were silly. We just look back at them that way because we've made it through the other side.

        • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @11:31AM (#34196640) Journal

          Yes those panics were silly, but a Star Trek style replicator would create a gigantic social upheaval, physical tokens of value such as gold and cash would be essentially worthless. The only things left to trade would be time and talent. Now that I think about it, the "gigantic social upheaval" might be a GoodThing(TM)...

          If you feel like reading some cool old science fiction, the George O. Smith collection "Venus Equilateral" has a series of stories about exactly this: the hero manages to make (by mistake, as it happens, because they're busy trying to solve a related problem) a matter duplicator that can flawlessly reproduce masterpieces of art, food, whatever, and society pretty much collapses as everyone has to figure out how to become service industry personnel just so they have something to do. There's a resolution of sorts when the engineers who built the machine come up with a way to make things somewhat like batteries, that are in an energetically non-equilibrium state that the matter duplicator, being purely matter-centric, can't duplicate, and using that as money to get a trade system going again, but there's still a huge change in how society is run.

          Neal Stephenson also dealt with this somewhat in "Diamond Age" but swept a lot of it under the carpet by essentially saying that you got charged money for building stuff with your matter compiler and somehow there was a verifiable difference between original items and duplicated ones, so maybe he was positing matter compilers that print flawed, detectable copies much like current laser printers add yellow dots to their printouts making them traceable []. Since it seems to be working pretty well for laser printers, it's likely something similar would happen with fabricators if/when we get to the point they can print usable mechanical stuff.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by jvkjvk ( 102057 )

            What I think is sad is that many people obviously believe in the necessity of scarcity.

            That's no way to head towards the future, IMO.

            We are currently caught up in the illusion that the only way forward is through scarcity. That if something becomes "magically" free of this burden we still MUST impose this viewpoint, artifically if necessary -- even if it kills people (see the pharma mass murders from patented drugs as an example). This is just the latest example of that outdated mindset.

            The fact is that t

  • by bobdotorg ( 598873 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:08AM (#34195256)

    ... some patent lawyers.

    • I'm more worried about the idiots who are tinkering with the future of humanity by posting 3D printer schematics online.

      • by Teancum ( 67324 )

        I'm more worried about the idiots who are tinkering with the future of humanity by posting 3D printer schematics online.

        Too late, it is already being done.

        I suppose you are concerned about people making artificial life as well? In other words somebody using just chemistry to create a completely artificial life form that can reproduce itself with no outside DNA or any previous life form being needed. Guess what... it is already being done too.

        So how do you close Pandora's box again?

  • by lkcl ( 517947 ) <> on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:14AM (#34195296) Homepage

    has anyone noticed that:

    * the Mafiaa is after file indexing sites, because the index allows people to "break the law"

    * now 3D printers are being classified as "law-breaking" tools.

    * nobody goes after weapons manufacturers and suppliers to prevent and prohibit weapons manufacturers and suppliers from putting the means to kill people into the hands of "irresponsible" people.

    so... let me get this straight: it's okay to kill people but it's not okay to be creative and innovative?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes they do.

    • by dkf ( 304284 )

      so... let me get this straight: it's okay to kill people but it's not okay to be creative and innovative?

      It's great to be creative and innovative, provided you then give all rights to benefit from "your" creation to some big business executive so they can spend it on hookers and blow. You? You should be glad that they let you keep breathing, you ungrateful git! </cynical>

  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:17AM (#34195314)
    Just like copying YOUR OWN cds at home, what's wrong with 3D printing and tweaking for personal use?
    Just because the technology is advanced and easy to use, doesn't mean you have to instantly start suing people. Right?
    • by AdmiralXyz ( 1378985 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:44AM (#34195474)
      I think the objection is this: let's say you're an inventor, and you've invented this incredible spoon. For whatever reason, the shape and ergonomic design of this spoon revolutionize the eating process, making it orders of magnitude faster, safer, and more efficient. (I have no idea how a spoon would accomplish this, but then, I'm not an inventive genius).

      By taking out a patent on your new spoon design you've ensured that unscrupulous manufacturers can't just make a mold of it and start stamping out their own Mega-Spoons without fairly compensating you. That's how patent law is supposed to work.

      But what about a world where everyone has 3D printers? If someone uploads the schematics for your spoon to The Pirate Bay and lets anyone print one out, instead of buying it from you, are they breaking patent law? Is it still a breach of the law if you're only doing it for your own use instead of selling it? Is it theft? (you're being deprived of revenue, after all)

      I'm not asking rhetorically: I honestly don't know, and I bet a lot of other people don't know either. It'd be cool if all of this could be straightened out before these printers become household technology, but that's probably wishful thinking and we'll see the same reactive nonsense that we see for movies/music now.
      • these morons have missed the point that enshrined in patent law is the right to create a single copy of an invention, for the purposes of allowing the copyer to "further improve upon the invention".

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tinkerghost ( 944862 )
        A college was sued recently over hand constructing some testing equipment that had been patented. There are some loopholes in the patent law about use for research & the college was using the equipment to conduct research - just not on the patented item.
      • by Shark ( 78448 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @10:44AM (#34196116)

        Philosophically, I think money should be made for performing work, including intellectual work. If you didn't find a company who would pay you to invent the mega-spoon, you did that work for free. You aren't entitled to anything but recognition that you came up with it first.

        The work and cost of *making* a mega-spoon is something you can be paid for if anyone wants one and can't be bothered to perform that work themselves. If you can come up with a way to make it better or more cheaply than someone else, that's where you ought to make your money.

        But wait, you say, there is no way to make billions in that hypothetical world of yours. Giganormous ultra-centralized production (do I hear monopoly?) is almost impossible for simple products with large markets. How can you buy lobbyists and governments? If there's a market, production will tend to be local... It will create more jobs overall, these jobs will have a healthy competing market for labour: mega-spoon makers in Michigan don't pay you enough? Move to another maker somewhere else...

        Anyway, I'm sure there's a rational argument for an IP centralized world too but as we tend toward one in our current reality, I'm not convinced by it. I'd accept a compromise like putting a pretty short expiration date on all IP. A song/movie is usually only a big hit for a few months, why should copyrights last decades? Bands/artists should be paid to *perform*: either write new stuff, go on tour or go back to being poor. If you can't offset the cost of your patented idea within the first couple years, you aren't innovating right.

  • Well duh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Arancaytar ( 966377 ) <> on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:25AM (#34195362) Homepage

    Wherever innovation threatens to become ubiquitous and improve civilization and everyday life, you can bet the patent system will be ready to strangle it. That's what it's for.

    • Not quite (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2010 @10:25AM (#34195912)

      the patent system will be ready to strangle it. That's what it's for.

      Instead of speculating on other people's motives from your own subjective viewpoint, why not simply observe the reality of the situation?

      Fact: the patent system increases the net worth of those with the resources to exploit the system. Patent law is a weapon used to eliminate competitors. Those who have the money to exploit this weapon are rewarded with large returns on the investment.

      Fact: the patent system increases the net worth of the business of government, both in revenue and power over the people. It costs billions per year to run this system. Each lawsuit rakes more money through the business of government. From the bottom looking up, it's a waste. From the top looking down, it's an opportunity.

      Conclusion: the patent system is a tool for the elite -- both in the "private" and "public" sectors -- used to guarantee and increase their profits. The strangling of innovation isn't a goal here, but merely "collateral damage".

      • The AC I'm replying to does make some interesting observations of the patent system. If you have some mod points, please toss him one, I'd like to see some discussion on his view, but not many people read at 0+.


  • Of course, the technology is only sufficiently advanced once it can be used to produce complete functional copies of itself from raw materials (some assembly required, of course, though if it can manage that too we'd be golden).

  • by Constantin ( 765902 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:33AM (#34195424)

    The ability to mill 3-dimensional objects has been around for a while. The advent of cheap table-top scanner systems is the real issue - once it becomes easy to make accurate 3-dimensional reproductions in CAD quickly, then the gates are opened to make all sorts of stuff at the same (or even higher) quality than OEM. The US Navy has been investing in this technology for years since they discovered that they didn't have the blueprints for all sorts of stuff anymore that was supposed to be scrapped by now.

    To me, the issue is that the ability to accurately model 3-dimensional objects has come to the average desktop. No longer do forgers have to deal with making investment-cast reproductions, where each successive generation of castings degenerates due to loss of detail (like cassette tapes, I suppose). No, this is the digital generation where these sorts of models can be shared as easily via the internet as digital music is being shared today, and it scares copyright- and trademark-holders to bits since they will more and more easily lose control of their brands. But I don't think that 3D printing is at fault here - other enabling technologies are what make them so potent a tool.

    And that's the rub, 3D printing has enormous potential to unleash a torrent of creativity as more and more folk are allowed to let their imagination run its course - delivering prototypes quickly, cheaply, and to a greater and greater proportion of the populace. Eventually, why shouldn't your local hobby shop or CVS not also deliver 3D prints in addition to the 2D stuff they deliver today? I hope that our trademark/copyright/etc. overlords are not allowed to squash this exciting technology in its infancy, especially considering that enforcing this sort of copyright control is not an issue in the developed world.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Solandri ( 704621 )
      It's only become an issue because some people are still in denial about whether they manufacture hardware or software. The main culprit is the RIAA and MPAA, but the publishing industry is complicit too. For decades their software (songs, movies) was tied to hardware (records, videotapes, CDs, DVDs). They mistakenly thought they were selling hardware when in fact they were selling software, and so built their business model and protections around hardware.

      When tools for cheap or even free software rep
  • ...for the same reason publishers didn't shut down Xerox. They will have a theoretical contributory infringement case against those who distribute CAD files but will have even less luck than the RIAA due to the lack of statutory damages. For the same reason they won't be able to act against end-users at all unless they start selling large numbers of copies.

    The real fun will begin when the cheap 3D scanners come out.

  • by WillAdams ( 45638 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:43AM (#34195468) Homepage

    Like a Colt 1911A1 pistol: []

    There's no need for special laws --- existing laws for

      - trade dress
      - patent infringement (esp. of design patents which govern the appearance of a product)
      - trademark
      - copyright

    already cover these things quite adequately. It's tough that the corporations will have to pay lawyers to keep track of plan distribution sites and initiate suits on an infringing item-by-item basis, but they've no more grounds for interfering w/ 3D printing technology than they have to try to prevent people from purchasing a metal lathe, block steel, strips of spring steel and a set of good quality files (which one could use to make the afore-mentioned Colt 1911A1).


  • by starseeker ( 141897 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:54AM (#34195576) Homepage

    Remember how this really works - whatever the current laws, there will be pressure from commercial entities to pass protective laws solely for the preservation of the commercial potential of their products. Just as copyright is expanded as needed to protect commercial interests, so will the laws be expanded (if needed) to protect commercial interests related to 3D printing. The only "safe" items will be things that clearly are not a consequence of current "protected" products and are explicitly released under open licenses.

    Of course, the article is quite correct that the statistical likelihood of companies going after any one individual for printing small numbers of parts is remote - even the music industry's campaign against file sharing has not made it all THAT probable that any given individual will be sued, it's just not cost effective to sue vast numbers of people who have no money and pay all the court costs. However, it DOES pose a problem for people who want designs that are fully legal in all senses of the word - i.e. those who want to use truly free models - and statistically unlikely doesn't mean some people won't get in trouble.

    The patent/copyright issues surrounding this issue, while fascinating, are not the only potential problems. If someone prints a design for a car part they downloaded off the web and installs it in their car, and something goes wrong, would they try and go after the source of that model? More to the point, would they have a case if they didn't pay anything and no warranties were made as to the serviceability of the design? Some jurisdictions limit the ability to disclaim things like implied warranty: [] Would the fact that the model in question was a free download and no money changed hands come into play? This is a point that comes up occasionally even in software - some people think they should have a right to have the tool work "for a particular purpose" even if they paid nothing to compensate the author for their work, although in practice this has seldom played out. Physical products based on designs are a more subtle problem - even if something goes wrong and money was paid, was it the design at fault or something else? How does one prove if the problem was the design, the printer, the plastic/resin used, the operation of the machine, improper use of the part, etc. etc. etc. IIRC, the Smithsonian makes people sign a waiver before they can get plans for the wright brothers airplane: [] (Unfortunately these plans are quite restricted - no commercial use or redistribution, so what might have been an excellent source of high quality model plans is out of the question. I don't know if the dimensions in them are subject to copyright restriction - it seems unlikely but it would take a lawyer to figure out - but the agreement would seem to preclude anything interesting in that regard.)

    That said, all human activity carries such risks. Authors of books (or for that matter authors of web pages!) run the risk of being sued for what their book motivated someone to do. People try to sue gun makers for what people do when they misuse guns. Anyone holding public office with significant power has painted a legal bullseye on themselves. Hopefully a free model community will eventually appear, the issues will be worked out, and we'll see a surge of scanning of historical artifacts outside of all possible copyright/patent concerns and new designs under open licenses. Not just for the fun and creativity, but because those are excellent ways to preserve and build on old designs from past masters.

    The existing open CAD models are somewhat scarce, but some of those that do exist have gravitated toward the Creative Commons licensing schemes. I am aware of:


    • by Teancum ( 67324 )

      Note that with the Wright Flyer drawings, it was something original performed by the staff of the Smithsonian that they are protecting, not the original plans drawn up by Orville and Wilbur Wright. Those plans are in the public domain and the patents on them have expired.

      I personally don't have too much worry about an organization like the Smithsonian making money off of effort they put in, other than the Smithsonian is to me something that might as well be an agency of the U.S. government due to their ver

  • Because copyright is basically amoral, and will extend its shitty mitts to everything.

  • What universal 3D printers will do: make patents on hardware as crippling to innovation and society as patents on software.

    So. What happens to the patent system when everyone has a 3D printer and is swapping designs amongst themselves? Is there a future for it? Can it be taken out before it strangles society?

  • What about keys? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PrimaryConsult ( 1546585 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @12:21PM (#34197282)

    I'm surprised no one seems to have mentioned this yet. A lot of keys who's primary copy protection is specialized blanks would suddenly become as easy to copy as a standard house key. Sure integrating an electronic component would deter that, but that's many billions of locks that would need to be upgraded. I wouldn't be surprised if this is killed on some shaky legal grounds as it is an opportunity for an easy-out from this problem.

  • by AmigaHeretic ( 991368 ) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @03:23PM (#34199528) Journal
    A replicator would change the world economy as we know it. People essentially wouldn't need to work. All there needs food, clothing, shelter, entertainment could simply be replicated. Larger replicator could make you a car, boat, etc. Other than power (which essentially seems to not be a real problem in the Star Trek world) you have no needs.

    A 3D printer is not nearly as advanced of course, but it's definitely a big enough leap that that it may change certain parts of our lives drastically.

    Assuming the price to "print" in 3D drops cheaply enough and the technology advances enough we may find our selves replicating our own items and killing 1000s of industries.

    Look at just the kitchen: Forks, Spoons, chopsticks, plates, cups, Spatulas, Colendars, ladles, tongs, whisks, etc. I saw a TV show with Jay Leno and he has a 3D printer in his shop which he uses to make car parts for his rare cars that are basically impossible to get other than fabricating your own.

    I imagine there will be much resistance to this type of thing by large corporations that stand to become obsolete.

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