“Everybody wears the same clothes now. And everybody plays the game. Copycat, copycat, copycat.” Copycat by The Cranberries
The Internet. The Industrial Revolution. Guttenberg’s Printing Press, The Wheel. Game-changing inventions that radically changed how humans work, play, interact, and think. It’s hard to remember life without computers on our desktops and in our pockets, courtesy of Smartphones that keep us constantly connected but increasingly isolated. Just when we were about to take a breather so we could download the newest Apps from the Apple Store, the onslaught of innovation has gained new momentum. As before, the technology poised to change our lives–and possibly the world–sounds benign. 3D Printing. The name conjures up little more than something that might be able to churn out a nifty diorama for a 5th grade school project. But don’t let the simple name fool you. Like the printing press or the microprocessor, 3D Printing technology promises to have a profound impact on how goods are made, sold, and used.
What is a 3D printer? To simplify, it’s a desktop “factory” that can copy and reproduce everything from dishware to components of firearms. Using a 3D printer, virtually any solid object that can be scanned and reduced to a digital “virtual blueprint” can be manufactured, literally on one’s desktop. Today, 3D printing remains the province of industries such the spare auto parts makers and hobbyists who dabble in printing model toys, jewelery, and other small objects. Tempting to dismiss or ignore. But once upon a time, not too long ago, computers were brushed aside as reserved for IBM, NASA and the eggheads eager to trade up from their slide rules and pocket protectors.
In just the last few years, the price of “personal” 3D printers has dipped to around $2,000. And the implications could be profound. Imagine making your own crowns or dental implants, spare parts for household appliances or cars, even chocolates. And imagine factories and warehouses that make, store, and ship those and innumerable other items suddenly going the way of the dinosaurs when everyone has an “all-in-one” “DIY” factory sitting right next to their paper printer.
This all may sound too good to be true, but owners of intellectual property can ill afford to act like ostriches. Recent history reveals what can happen when IP owners don’t grasp and embrace sea changes in technology. Just try to find a Sam Goody’s record store or a Blockbuster Video still welcoming consumers through their brick and mortar doors–done in by rampant and unashamed peer-to-peer file sharing of music and movies, and ultimately ceding prize market positions to streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify.
What can owners of copyrights, trademarks, and patents do to avoid a similar fate from 3D printers. It will require innovative solutions and creative approaches using the full arsenal of IP rights. First steps should include shoring up conventional protection for designs, such as design patenTs, copyrights, and trademarks. Ensuring that when something is copied, the trademark is necessarily copied may be one way to easily identify counterfeit products. Obtaining copyrights in the digital files needed to create a 3D copies may also become a vital tool in controlling–and profiting from–the rise of home-based manufacturing. But one thing is sure, industries that don’t recognize that the winds of change are blowing hard and fast may well be swept aside.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.”