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Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing), Gun Control, and Patent Law 380

retroworks writes "J.D. Tuccille of the conservative think tank Reason Foundation discusses last week's news about the first working 3D-printed gun. According to the original article, the partly plastic '.22-caliber pistol, formed from a 3D-printed AR-15 (M16) lower receiver, and a normal, commercial upper' fired 200 rounds without any sign of wear and tear. Tuccille takes the discovery in the direction of politically topical gun control. '...the development makes it clear that a wide range of bans, restrictions and prohibitions are becoming increasingly unenforcable.' But in my mind, this example of additive-manufacturing technology raises even more questions about patent law enforcement. Will 3D printing be to the Anti-gray-market-alliance what online porn became to neighborhood blue laws?"
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Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing), Gun Control, and Patent Law

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  • Already happening (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) * <jmorris@beau . o rg> on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @01:03PM (#40830555)

    This fight is already happening. What do ya think the whole war over software patents boils down to? Is it a patentable machine or a copyrightable expression in code? Well soon it will be everything is downloadable and where is the line? That is the heart of this argument in a nutshell.

  • by EdgePenguin ( 2646733 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @01:06PM (#40830595) Homepage

    As guns are far more strictly controlled over here, and as such you can't obtain the parts that you can't home make, this doesn't really apply to the UK or other countries that don't have everybody armed to the teeth.

    ...but its only a matter of time really. I actually like gun control laws, but I can't see any way they can be enforced, long term, in light of this kind of technology - without banning the technology outright, which would be like banning home computers in the 1970s. Obviously, the people who have a stake in selling people stuff they may be able to manufacture themselves in the near future are going to love this. Moral panics are always useful for promoting a ruthless, rent seeking economic agenda, as the debate over digital rights has shown.

  • by EdgePenguin ( 2646733 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @01:11PM (#40830665) Homepage
    Doing it with a machine shop requires time, skill, and more importantly a machine shop. The future that could threaten the effectiveness of gun control is one where desktop devices could produce enough parts of a gun that whatever is left over can be obtained legally in your jurisdiction - and the only entry requirement will be the desktop device itself and an internet connection.
  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @01:13PM (#40830717)
    For a few hundred dollars I can make a CNC mill and craft a gun out of a block of metal. Frankly, I can do much the same with a metal file. Same goes for patent infringement. Add in a 3D scanner and I can duplicate just about anything. There is nothing intrinsically special about 3D printers VS other methods of manufacturing. Its just an evolution of mass production.
  • Re:Why like that? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rufty_tufty ( 888596 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @01:20PM (#40830831) Homepage

    You've got me thinking, could we somehow apply market forces to laws. Only the fittest survive.
    I've heard it suggested that there should be a maximum number of laws allowed (and if you want to pass a new one you have to repeal old ones).
    How can you have law when it is not possible for even a specialist in the subject to know all the laws and how to apply them correctly. Does not the fact that a lawyer can be a specialist in one area but yet still not know if a law applies to someone not ring that something is fundamentally wrong with the system?
    The fact that I am subject to laws that I cannot reasonably be expected to know about sickens me. I can be legitimately expected to be doing illegal things through no fault of my own.
    How does that not remove respect for the law?

  • by Smidge204 ( 605297 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @01:21PM (#40830841) Journal

    Copyright the plans, patent the actual device.

    Patents are supposed to cover a particular arrangement of components that perform a specific task. Even a parametric design would still have the same fundamental arrangement of major components and perform the same task. You can patent that.

    Then you can copyright the script that generates the device with the given parameters.

  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @01:23PM (#40830859)
    Improvised firearms have been made by pure amateurs for years. The fact of the matter is that most people don't want a gun bad enough to take the risks involved in making their own. However, the whole problem with gun control laws is that people who want a gun for criminal purposes aren't really bothered by those risks (they want the gun to reduce the risk of an already high risk activity).
  • by EdgePenguin ( 2646733 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @01:32PM (#40830981) Homepage

    You don't hear home-made firearms being used in crimes much - I'm guessing because the discipline required to make something of high enough quality that it can stand firing a bullet is not normally found in the same individual as the kind of impulsiveness normally required to commit a violent crime.

    The issue here is the possibility of obtaining firearms with no requirement for discipline, training, patience, or anything else that might lower a chances person of using that firearm in anger.

  • by Experiment 626 ( 698257 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @01:34PM (#40831023)

    Gun control is to the second amendment what censorship is to the first. These are authoritarian push-backs against the Bill of Rights giving people "too much" freedom. The Internet has shown what happens to such restrictive efforts once an enabling technology is introduced to the masses.

  • by nschubach ( 922175 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @01:48PM (#40831215) Journal

    I'm pretty pro-gun, but you don't hear of them using homemade weapons because machines weapons are generally easy to get. If they were not, people would be building more pipe bombs and other easy to assemble/deploy weapons. In countries where guns are not as prevalent people resort to other tools to perform crimes. Sadly, as much as guns are portrayed as deadly, other homemade weapons can be far more deadly.

  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @01:54PM (#40831323) Homepage
    The problem is, how do you enforce the patent when people are printing the devices in their basement. You can't go after someone for releasing plans they drew up themselves, as long as they aren't a copy of your originals, and even if they were, the plans are just downloadable files, and we know how well that's working out for the movie and music industries. You can't go after the people producing the items, because there are just in their basements, and you have no way of tracking who is printing off the devices for personal use. I'm not saying it's all bad, but it definitely makes things interesting for companies that produce things that can be printed out on a 3D printer at home.
  • Re:Why like that? (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @01:58PM (#40831389)

    That's asinine. Gasoline has beneficial uses while guns are a "tool" with a single purpose: killing. The only useful purpose for a gun is sustenance hunting, and even that is completely unnecessary in our society.

  • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @02:00PM (#40831417) Journal

    Short of a radioactive material and toxins, something sitting around does no harm. It is only when something is used that it can do harm. This revolution in manufacturing shows how untenable the approach of "banning" something is. We have to dispense with the idea that prevention of possession is a crime or even possible, and focus solely on damaging uses. In this way we have all the rights and all the responsibility to exercise freedom.

  • by oakgrove ( 845019 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @02:10PM (#40831573)

    I'm not saying it's all bad, but it definitely makes things interesting for companies that produce things that can be printed out on a 3D printer at home.

    Even with 3D printers, large factories will still be able to produce just about anything for a fraction of what you can do it for in your house. As it is right now, the real cost for the companies will be in distribution and R&D. Outsource the R&D to China or India (or evolutionary algorithms based on some of the stuff I see in stores) and streamline your distribution with just in time principles, etc. and I don't think they'll have a whole lot to worry about. Maybe profit margins will be a little thinner but they aren't in any real danger yet. Jobs will be lost in the short term but that always happens when production is streamlined.

  • by oakgrove ( 845019 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @02:20PM (#40831743)

    I'll bet manufacturers are shitting their pants over home printed things... but then, you can only print plastics at this point. When you can download and print a whole car, hell yes I'll pirate a car!

    They're shitting their pants in the same way the MPAA shat their pants over the VCR and the RIAA shat their pants over the cassette recorder. As in a lot of foot stomping and posturing then going on to continue making tons of money. Even if you can print a car or a computer or a friggin nuclear reactor, believe that all of that can be made on an assembly line and shipped to your door for much less than it will cost you and still have a nice profit margin for the manufacturer. To me printing cars is boring. I'm looking forward to the level of creativity unleashed unlike anything seen in the material realm ever before. We've seen this in the realm of software, literature, music, and video since the production tools became commodotized. No, you can't shit out 10,000,000 CDs a week like Warner Brothers can but you can put your stuff on Youtube and entertain 3,432,454 people in a week. That doesn't stop the industry from making money but it does enrich a few peoples' lives just a little bit. That's analogous to how I expect the 3D printer revolution to play out at least in the mid-term.

  • by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @02:37PM (#40832017)
    Printing a plastic widget which holds the metal bits of a gun together is slightly different from printing a gun. Not that it would be hugely impressive to print an entire gun anyway given the thing would probably be destroyed or rendered unusable within a few shots. Doesn't help much either if you can't print the ammunition.
  • by oakgrove ( 845019 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @03:25PM (#40832857)
    If you're making millions and millions of widgets that are simple enough to be printed on a Maker Bot, your R&D cost per unit is infinitesimal. Listen, I love the idea of making things at home but it isn't going to replace mass production even a little bit. What it will do is allow people to unleash their creativity. That's the real point so many other people are missing.
  • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @04:01PM (#40833341)

    "They may pass laws forbidding the possession of 3D printers that aren't licensed, like unregistered handguns and fully-automatic firearms. Possessing/using an unlicensed/unauthorized 3D printer would result in a lengthy prison term and huge fines."

    The rich have done this with millstones for centuries. Peasants had to bring the corn to the Lord's mill and he sent his brute squad to find and destroy any 'illegal' millstones.

  • by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @05:31PM (#40834703) Homepage Journal

    As the cost of home production decreases it will force limits on corporate profits. The oil people know this and keep the cost of gasoline low enough that electrics and alternate fuels aren't competitive. Manufacturers will have to do the same thing.

    I really think you're barking up the wrong tree with the "cost of production" angle - I highly doubt the cost of acquisition is the major delimiting factor preventing the majority of people from adopting the practice of 3D printing at home.

    Want evidence? One word: Linux.

    If the failure of Linux to be adopted by the masses has taught us anything, it's that a price tag of free does not compensate for ease-of-use and staying within one's comfort zone.

    Personally, I can't imagine most people will take an interest in 3D printing until it's as simple as giving a voice command to the Replicator. Sad, but that's the world we live in.

  • by Americano ( 920576 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2012 @06:28PM (#40835429)

    Sure, or think of the commercial print industry: Everybody can buy a cheap consumer inkjet/laser printer that will print at a decent quality - you could buy and print out PDFs if you wanted to do all of it at home. But you wouldn't necessarily have access to a commercial-grade printing and binding facility that would allow you to crank out a couple thousand professionally bound copies of War and Peace in a few hours.

    I don't think printers are a foregone conclusion in the home, but I think you'll see "consumer-grade" printers available for a reasonable price for those who want them - just like you can buy a table saw for your home workshop, or a nailgun today. The DIY-ers will have one, the people who can't be bothered with fixing and building things themselves will rely on commercial services.

The one day you'd sell your soul for something, souls are a glut.