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3D Printing May Face Legal Challenges

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the printing-a-lawsuit dept.

Patents 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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Worried? (3, Funny)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195198)

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

Re:Worried? (5, Funny)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Worried? (5, Funny)

_0rm_ (1638559) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195240)

Flawless victory.

Re:Worried? (0, Redundant)

Gaygirlie (1657131) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195306)

Ouch, touché!! :D

Re:Worried? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34195354)


Re:Worried? (0, Offtopic)

gomiam (587421) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195680)

I would worry less about her being his wife, and more about her comparing the plastic and you ;)

Re:Worried? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34195682)

And you asked her for advice because?

Re:Worried? (2)

dcviper (251826) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195254)

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? (5, Insightful)

Teancum (67324) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195570)

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:Worried? (2, Informative)

Builder (103701) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195792)

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? (3, Informative)

VolciMaster (821873) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195854)

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? (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195320)

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? (5, Insightful)

Ephemeriis (315124) | more than 3 years ago | (#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:Worried? (2, Informative)

sgbett (739519) | more than 3 years ago | (#34196024)

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:Worried? (5, Insightful)

andrewbaldwin (442273) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Worried? (1)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 3 years ago | (#34196148)

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:Worried? (4, Interesting)

necro81 (917438) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195898)

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:Worried? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195960)

What isn't made of a lumpy plastic nowadays?

Pretty pathetic (4, Insightful)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195200)

Pretty pathetic. Why not sue the makers of lathes and hand tools - people might make patented things with them too.

Re:Pretty pathetic (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Pretty pathetic (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195758)

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.

Re:Pretty pathetic (1)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195852)

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.

Re:Pretty pathetic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34195344)

If they were invented now, they would.

Re:Pretty pathetic (4, Funny)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195436)

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.

Re:Pretty pathetic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34195650)

Pretty pathetic. Why not sue the makers of lathes and hand tools - people might make patented things with them too.

Right. Because a tool requiring skill and training is clearly the best comparison to a mass-production device for producing goods in a consumer's home on the cheap.

You might as well say, "Pretty pathetic. Why not sue the fat cats that build their own factories to make copies of stuff?" oh wait, they would want to do that if they could, too!

I'm not saying you don't have a point or that I don't agree. You're engaging in unhelpful fallacy which creates UD even if you don't scare anybody.

It won't end there (3, Funny)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 3 years ago | (#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."

Re:It won't end there (4, Insightful)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195422)

Manufacturers of stoves, ovens and all other kitchen equipment were sued by McDonalds for enabling people to make a hamburger at home.

Re:It won't end there (0, Offtopic)

Barryke (772876) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195644)

Somehow this implies McDonalds has a kitchen and i don't like it. Its more like a plastic mold factory. I'm actually upset they call this meat.

Re:It won't end there (1)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195656)

Somehow this implies McDonalds has a kitchen and i don't like it. Its more like a plastic mold factory. I'm actually upset they call this meat. []

Re:It won't end there (1)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195456)

please. you're thinking too detailed. It's thinking that is to be patented, and you owe me money for thinking, even if it's subconscious.

Okay... (3, Funny)

Kokuyo (549451) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195208)

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.

Re:Okay... (5, Informative)

migla (1099771) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195252)


Now, I don't remember if bringing up Cory Doctorow is a good or bad idea, but he's written the short "Printcrime" that would be relevant to this topic: []

Re:Okay... (2, Interesting)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195458)

They'll win that battle just as easily and decisively

I realize you're joking, but I think it's just as likely that 3D printing becomes the death of entire categories of patents.

Progress threatens patents... (2, Insightful)

Vernes (720223) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195214) 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!

Re:Progress threatens patents... (1)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195258)

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. (1, Interesting)

ickleberry (864871) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195230)

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.

Re:Tuff. (1)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195260)

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:Tuff. (1)

TDyl (862130) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195384)

Such as the weapon used by Malkovich in "In The Line Of Fire" []

Re:Tuff. (2, Informative)

arivanov (12034) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195444)

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 from a licensed shop?

Compare "The Right to Read" by Stallman (2, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195518)

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:Tuff. (2, Informative)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195780)

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 of illegal drugs and arrested several barbers for license violations (unlicensed barber, expired license, and other violations of that sort).

Re:Tuff. (1)

WillAdams (45638) | more than 3 years ago | (#34196078)

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.


Re:Tuff. (2, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195856)

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 them up and acted like some super-charged John Wayne, sort of like you see in the movie Toy Story.

Anyway, some people with less than honorable intentions discovered that bullets for a real Colt .45 would fit into the chambers of this gun, and the firing mechanism (hammer & trigger) would even work to make it a real gun. It had numerous problems if you wanted to use it for target practice, and there was a tendency for the gun to even blow up in your hand (sending you to the hospital) if you fired the gun, but about 8 times out of 10 times the bullet would leave the gun just like the real thing. It was "good enough" that it was used in a number of bank robberies, and ended up killing a couple of security guards.

If you want to know where the regulations on toy guns come from, it was this incident that started the whole thing. I think something from a 3D printer could easily reproduce this particular toy gun, and getting ammunition for guns isn't all that particularly hard. You could even print out the bullets too, where the trick would be to create the primer & gunpowder with home-made recipes. Obtaining the raw ingredients: sulfer, carbon, and potassium nitrate; aren't all that hard to find, and one of the early sources of KNO3 was manure. In other words, anybody who builds an out-house and has access to some wood could also make a bomb. For awhile in London during the 19th Century, people were actually paid to have their septic system cleaned out for nitrate production, or at least not charged for the service.

I agree it would be a complex process and take somebody with some real initiative, but a basic knowledge of chemistry is all it would really take if you cared. Many 3D printers are also capable of producing metal parts too, or you could print out a machine lathe and some other machining tools to make the stuff if you were so inclined. It isn't that complicated, and what it would take to stop this is to simply outlaw the ability to be human. Somehow I think that violates some civil rights and some other basic principles there too.

Re:Tuff. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34195328)

I can imagine in a few years 3D printers will be capable of printing perfectly good weapons.

I can do that on my 2D printer already. Though, they don't seem to work :|.

Re:Tuff. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34195394)

Bah, let them try!
They won't be able to prevent an infinitely high number of operations that eventually lead to a projectile being launched in some new, hilarious way.

Also, see eXistenZ Restaurant scene [] where he makes a gun from bone.

Re:Tuff. (2, Interesting)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195498)

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 use it to machine the parts from blanks, or b) just use the big wad of cash you have to go and buy a gun on the black market - assuming you can't buy one legally.

As for your point on DRM I agree: even if people are incapable of designing the simplest of guns (probably generally true), someone may release a design without DRM just for lulz or simply strip the DRM from an existing design for even more lulz.

To throw in my two penneth, 3D scanners go hand-in-hand with RP machines (they're a lot better though) and unlike copying a bank note there would be nothing to stop one filing off any marks that would prevent digitising. Given an adequate 3D printer, a decent 3D scanner and a gun you could probably roll off as many as you want, assuming no-one came knocking to ask what you needed all those bags of metal powder for.

As an aside, when I looked at RP machines I realised that precision would improve with time as a matter of course, I was more interested in finding a machine that didn't require proprietary feedstock. That and being able to get around the problem of casting ceramics - I was quite enamoured of the Toyota(?) adiabatic-ish diesel engine at the time.

Re:Tuff. (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#34196018)

...low melting point plastics...

Perfect... Print out an electrical circuit that will go into overload, and melt or burn said lump of plastic and fill the room with noxious fumes if the cops knock the door down.. Make sure you print a gas mask first.

Re:Tuff. (2, Informative)

EdZ (755139) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195500)

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 casting in order to cut down on milling time.

Re:Tuff. (1)

sukotto (122876) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195718)

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.

What a thing to worry about (3, Interesting)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:What a thing to worry about (3, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195290)

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:What a thing to worry about (2, Insightful)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195510)

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)...

Re:What a thing to worry about (1)

Shark (78448) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195832)

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

Re:What a thing to worry about (1)

tinkerghost (944862) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195978)

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.

Time to print... (2, Funny)

bobdotorg (598873) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195256)

... some patent lawyers.

Re:Time to print... (1)

Swanktastic (109747) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195382)

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

Re:Time to print... (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195906)

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?

Re:Time to print... (1)

bobdotorg (598873) | more than 3 years ago | (#34196006)

So how do you close Pandora's box again?

Patent lawyers?

This... (1)

_0rm_ (1638559) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195270)

It boggles my mind the lows the corporate entities will stoop to keep alive the consumerist mindset that has gripped the American economy.

Protip to any and all patent holders considering this: The free market made you rich as fuck, and that same free market can destroy you if you refuse to adapt. Who was it who said "The wise man adapts to the world, the fool attempts to adapt the world to himself. In the end, the fool wins."?

Re:This... (2, Informative)

ghmh (73679) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195508)

I think it's this you were after:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. - George Bernard Shaw

But then I've seen other variants even attributed to other people, so who knows...

Mafiaa all over again! (5, Insightful)

lkcl (517947) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195296)

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:Mafiaa all over again! (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34195338)

Yes they do.

Re:Mafiaa all over again! (1)

DarthSmeg (88450) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195348)


It's definitely NOT okay to kill people in creative and innovative ways!

Re:Mafiaa all over again! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34195364)

Some might argue that copy/paste is neither creative or innovative.
Also, it could be considered that killing is an Art.

Re:Mafiaa all over again! (1)

Amorymeltzer (1213818) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195946)

I know I'm taking the bait here, but the second amendment does come into play. The same people who say that it doesn't say gay marriage in the Constitution or wonder where Separation of Church and State is actually mentioned will notice the following about the Constitution:

- No mention of file sharing
- No mention of 3D printers
- I get guns

Is it naive? Yes. Is it ignorant? Yes. Does it happen all the time? Yes.

Re:Mafiaa all over again! (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34196020)

You're missing the point. Nobody really cares about others using their ideas, their patents or anything.

They're doing *something* that'll make the suers less money. Hence, they get sued. Same happened (with success, sadly) over the past hundreds of years. There was this church thing that limited the creativity of everybody because it might cut into their income, there was a handweavers guild that lobbied to forbid Toyoda weaving machines, there were people claiming cd / floppy / tape copying kills their income stream, and now this is people complaining that they can't ask people to pay for what they can do themselves anymore.

So yes, it's completely ratonal that murder weapons aren't being sued. Not until there's money to be made from not kililng people.

Re:Mafiaa all over again! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34196054)

Of course it is okay to kill people, people are creative and innovative!

Re:Mafiaa all over again! (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 3 years ago | (#34196102)

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>

Sue everybody solution (2, Insightful)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 3 years ago | (#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?

Re:Sue everybody solution (3, Insightful)

AdmiralXyz (1378985) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

patent law allows "single copy" to be made (1)

lkcl (517947) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195866)

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:Sue everybody solution (2, Interesting)

tinkerghost (944862) | more than 3 years ago | (#34196008)

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.

Re:Sue everybody solution (3, Interesting)

Shark (78448) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Sue everybody solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34195490)

From TFA:

In Europe, Bowyer says that patent law allows people to privately copy patented devices, so long as they don't try to sell it. But in the US, that's not the case, and patent law has no "fair use" exemptions.

Re:Sue everybody solution (1)

Amorymeltzer (1213818) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195996)

You shouldn't conflate copyright and patent law. They are two separate concepts governed by different laws, which by a freak coincidence happen to be just as messed up as each other.

Also drinking water, walking, waving a hand (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34195324)

In other news, patent holders are threatening to sue in court and proceed with astronomical financial claims to whoever:

- walks bij violating the copyright of film studios of walking cartoons
- waves a hand, breaking the copyright of NY Yellow Cab co
- goes to the bathroom, an act patented by God where royalties have to be paid
- picks up a phone, a patent by AT/T
- talks in plain English, as in a patent from a known software for voice recognition
- breaths, as in a patent of medical breathing machines

all in order to protect their legal rights under the current Law.

One industry 3D printers are going to destroy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34195326)

The high-end merchandising business. That is, those ridiculously overpriced ($30-$100) figurines that Japan rips people off on. When they can be printed for $1 in materials, directly from the 3D graphics application used to make them, nobody will be able to get away with charging so much anymore; the Chinese will likely just make cheap copies using 3D printers if they do.

But the other thing it'll destroy is the opposite -- the garage kit business. Fan sell the same type of toys, usually made via labor-intensive resin casting [] . Eventually, selling such kits will become equivalent to selling time on a 3D printer.

Re:One industry 3D printers are going to destroy.. (3, Interesting)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195356)

As someone who has seen the price of Warhammer figures, I have no sympathy for their losses.

Re:One industry 3D printers are going to destroy.. (3, Insightful)

RingDev (879105) | more than 3 years ago | (#34196056)

It's going to be quite a while before 3-d printers become ubiquitous. Heck, even if the price plummets (last I looked a decent quality "small" printer was still in the $10k range) you still have to have a space for the rather large device. Not to mention the technical know-how on it's use and the generation of CAD files.

And besides, what's to stop the garage kit business from buying one? These are the people that stand to gain the most. They likely have the room (by replacing their resin molding area), they have the drive and incentive to learn how to use the device, they have the creative spirit to generate their models (after learning a tool like Blender), and once they do so, their labor intensive work become simple, and perfectly replicable. No more mold release and dental cement. No more flawed and damaged models to replace. They can churn out perfect model after perfect model.


Well duh (3, Interesting)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195362)

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.

Re:Well duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34195816)

You're suggesting that 3D printers will be used in innovative ways, not to copy inventions of others.

That's a bit of a logical fallacy, as they'll be used for both. That will be problematic. Innovation won't be free. For instance, to find the best 3D print schematic for a new blender housing will take perhaps a thousand iterations - the first one won't hold the motor, the first ten will fracture when you turn it on, and the first hundred will fracture within a week. Designing and testing those will take time and materials. Yes, it can be Open Source innovation, but it still has to happen.

And of course, once we have such a Open Source design, we'd like it to remain free. Now here's the funny bit: Open Source Software works _because of_ copyright, not despite it. We need the equivalent for hardware schematics. Patents won't do, as they cost money. Copyright, whatever its downsides, is at least granted for free.

Re:Well duh (1)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195886)

The *GPL* works because of copyright.

many of the other open source licences which don't require improvements be released would work exactly the same without copyright.

Not quite (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#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 has an interesting point (2, Informative)

RingDev (879105) | more than 3 years ago | (#34196122)

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+.


Flame (1)

marjancek (1215230) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195368)

So I will be able to get from some torrent site the design to print my own iPhone?

Anything you can print with a 3D printer you could do with your own hands and plaster; what's the big deal?
If cd burners are not illigal, I don't see how 3D printers could get to be.

News Flash (1)

degeneratemonkey (1405019) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195414)

People who currently make money are afraid of not making money!

That fact, however, does not preclude the rest of the world from leaving them in the dust.

3d printers aren't there yet... (1)

Schadrach (1042952) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195416)

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).

It's rather strange that 3D printing is the issue (4, Insightful)

Constantin (765902) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

They won't succeed against 3D printer makers... (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195452)

...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.

Solution --- only distribute files for PD things (3, Insightful)

WillAdams (45638) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195468)

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).


Re:Solution --- only distribute files for PD thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34195740)

Those are actually pretty cool. I don't see any documentation of where they came from, but they look to be copies of the original Ordnance drawings? If so, and if the intent is to document them as a public domain, free-to-copy source the website author might want to make that a bit clearer, but neat stuff!

h--.z,TTtc (1)

Therilith (1306561) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195554)

You wouldn't download a car...

Re:h--.z,TTtc (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34196014)

... You wouldn't design a car and upload it for free (GPL)...

Just another addition to the filesharing fiasco. (1)

falldeaf (968657) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195562)

Somehow I doubt that the manufacturers of these new manufacturing devices will be the targets. Companies that produce blank CDs or mp3 players weren't really the center of attention. The riaa's primary focus from then up until now has been the mp3 files used to make the discs. Once desktop manufacturing is sophisticated enough to produce desirable gadgets the focus will probably be *solely* on the CAD files. Hopefully open source designs will see a boom once that happens. I always thought popular music would shift away from record labels after digital music and cheap, widespread distribution methods became available.

There will be a need for "Open Source Models" (2)

starseeker (141897) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195576)

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:

OpenMoko: [] under Creative Commons BY-SA - from a model quality standpoint, this is probably the best one I know of.

Via OpenBook: A laptop computer case. The original website doesn't seem to be there (anybody know what happened?), but there is a mirror here: []

There are a smattering of others - not sure what license these use:

Bug Labs: []
RepRap: []
Elphel had some at one point, not sure where they are now on the site: []

Hopefully these are harbingers of things to come - does anybody know of more good open source models?

Intellectual machinery (1)

estestvoispytatel (1091583) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195696)

I always thought Herbert's Butlerian jihad with its ban of intellectual machinery was too far-fetched for a concept, but in a few years it can easily turn into nice forecast.

Re:Intellectual machinery (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195956)

Sadly, we're all overrun by idea machines. Corrupt court systems, Patents, Copyright, Corporations, etc.

If you ask me, we have created our own evil idea-machine overlords which are now that are keeping us under their thumb...

The Butlerian Jihad is such an idea machine, particularly evil in that it seeks to destroy other machines too!

Of couse the will (1)

Snaller (147050) | more than 3 years ago | (#34195874)

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

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