An emerging set of platforms and services are making it easier for designers and inventors to navigate the complex landscape of copyright and get back to what they do best: making.
Mr. Wing, the mysterious shopkeeper in the horror-comedy classic,” Gremlins,” warned us emphatically about the dangers of letting Mogwai out into the world. Only careful adherence to the rules could ensure that the little furballs and their keepers remain safe and sound.
Similarly, controls are increasingly necessary within the exploding marketplace for 3D-printed objects and devices where the designs of individual makers can easily be downloaded, duplicated, modified and distributed well beyond the inventor’s intention. The democratization of creation has raised all kinds of new issues related to copyright and created a demand for a more ‘gated intellectual property‘ approach.
To hear more about how emerging services are enabling makers to avoid copyright infringement without stifling innovation in the marketplace, we spoke with John Hauer, co-founder and CEO of 3DLT. His company’s platform offers 3D printing as a service, helping stores offer 3D-printable products online and in brick-and-mortar locations.
The company has recently partnered with Authentise to help confirm that the 3D-printable files supplied by 3DLT are printed in accordance with their terms of license. All of this work has granted him a unique perspective on the hurdles presented by IP, hard won from the trenches of innovation pipelines.
Hauer describes the explosive growth of 3D printing into retail spaces like Amazon as “part Wild West and part Gold Rush.”
The Gold Rush part is the incredible opportunity that 3D printing offers makers and retailers alike.
“The digital channel allows inventors and designers to get their products to market so much more quickly and easily,” said Hauer. “The up-front costs and investment that go along with mass manufacturing go away.”
Retailers, Hauer says, “have to spend so much less time forecasting and trend spotting, looking into the crystal ball to try to determine what’s going to be the next great product.” Instead, individual stores can offer products for one-off printing via a digital channel to test demand. If the customers materialize, retailers can switch to mass manufacturing and, should demand wane, switch back to digital production.
So what about the Wild West part?
“There are still some things that need to be worked out. IP is one. Liability is another,” said Hauer. “There are folks that are out there who are not taking care of others’ intellectual property.”
As Mr. Wing put it: “With Mogwai comes much responsibility.”
Hauer says that 3DLT is committed to seeing that everyone in the value chain gets paid appropriately — the designer, the licenser, the retailer, the producer and everybody else involved. He sums up their philosophy as, “We want to be the guys in white hats.”
How do they do that? 3DLT is tackling the issue on two fronts.
To ensure that the 3DLT catalog is clean of copyright infringement, they have partnered with a shape-based search company out of the United Kingdom, 3D INDUSTRIES.
“They take the shape of a product that’s been submitted to us and compare it to a lot of other 3D-printing databases,” Hauer explained. “If it’s a duplicate, they put up a red flag which we investigate. If they don’t, they attribute that model across those other databases through 3DLT, so that we have a basis for some intellectual property.”
Then, to guarantee designers and retailers that a one-time purchase won’t go Gremlin, they work with Authentise, streaming designs directly to printers instead of downloading SBL files onto buyers’ machines. Said Hauer, “It’s important to be able to stream that file to a retail location and ensure only the number or quantities that were purchased or that were licensed are printed.”
Measures like these are part of a rapidly expanding toolbox available for makers and their allies to protect intellectual property, but Hauer says there’s a lot more room for growth. To assist individual designers, he anticipates the IP industry will soon step up with trademark and patent-type protections.
“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if insurance companies very soon come out with a liability product focused exclusively around 3D production and liability around it. I think that’s probably a business that develops off of our ecosystem.”
But 3D printing is transforming the manufacturing/retail environment at every scale and has the potential to disrupt all the old models for redistributing ideas.
“Licensing plays another role in this equation,” said Hauer. “I think brands are becoming more and more interested in 3D printing and how it’s going to affect their brand.”
Hauer said that these advances in copyright protection are part of the relentless innovation that defines the maker community. What else is bound for change?
“CAD. It’s got a target on it.”
Hauer predicts that we’ll soon see a suite of mobile apps developed that aren’t general to product design but are tailored to specific types of products. “If you want to create unique spoilers for your car, there might be an app for that. You want to create a new duck call, there might be an app for that. If you want to create new jewelry, there might be an app for that.”
According to Hauer, the maker movement is on the cusp of transition from an oddity to mass-market adoption.
“It’s really important that companies like 3DLT and others engage with those makers, give them the tools they need, and help them go from being a participant to becoming evangelists. I think that’s really where they’re headed.”
The “Maker’s Manual” spotlights the do-it-yourself Maker Movement and how new computing technologies are helping democratize the creation of things once limited to craftsmen and professionals. This 10-week series from PSFK and iQ by Intel will explore trends and feature interviews with artists, inventors and entrepreneurs who are turning their ideas and dreams into reality.