Will 3D printing kill IP?

Free sharing of designs through P2P and 3D printing could make trademarking irrelevant, experts say

SAN JOSE -- When 3D printing allows anyone to scan an object and create it, the concept of intellectual property and trademarks will increasingly become irrelevant.

"IP will be ignored and it will be impossible or impractical to enforce," said John Hornick, an IP attorney with Finnegan, Henderson, Farbow, Garrett & Dunner LLP in New York and a speaker at the Inside 3D Printing Conference here today. "Everything will change when you can make anything."

The onslaught against IP will begin with the toy industry, Hornick said.

Kids will be able to access CAD files containing the design specifications of their favorite toys on peer-to-peer sites such as Pirate Bay. Or they may use scanning technology in devices like Microsoft's Kinect motion sensor, to scan an object, load it into a CAD file and then onto a 3D printer, and voila, a toy is duplicated to exacting specification.

The "D-Tech Me" service from Disney's Hollywood Studios already allows visitors to pay $100 to get scanned and have a movie character -- such as a Star Wars storm trooper or a Disney princess -- created in their image.

As the tech advances, Peer Munck, a consultant at Liberty Advisor Group, said he fears the "Napsterization" of the 3D printing industry.

Napster, a peer-to-peer music file-sharing site, turned the music industry upside down when the service, founded in 1999, let users share .mp3 files for free. The service prompted record companies and artists to quickly join in a legal battle contending that Napster infringed on copyrights. By 2001, the legal quagmire forced Napster to shutter its virtual doors.

Thus, once users start sharing CAD files with product designs that can be used on 3D printers, manufacturers may also find legal and legislative avenues to prevent infringement on their patents, Munck said.

Chris Strong, an account manager with RapidScan3D, scans an attendee at the "Inside 3D Printing" conference in San Jose. The scanning technology creates an exact software replica of any object and it can be adjusted for color or other effects before being transferred to a 3D printer to create a real object, such as a human bust.

"Napster really did leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth. It was such an oversimplified and Draconian reaction [by the music industry]," said Melba Kurman, an author on 3D printing and a technology analyst. The reaction led some experts to suggest that government enforcement of IP is not the route to take in the future.

Kurman, however, believes government does have a role in protecting 3D printing IP, but not by responding to "fear-based" lobbying by industry groups.

3D modeling
Characters ranging from Disney princesses to Star Wars hero Hans Solo frozen in carbonite can be customized to look like the person purchasing them through 3D modeling and printing

On a micro level, any consumer can purchase a 3D printer and make custom products or copy existing ones - from clothing to kitchenware. No tool or die-casting is required because the printer does it all. While the quality of a consumer-grade 3D printer will not typically meet the quality of a product created industrially, the technology is improving rapidly.

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