Shapeways Talks 3D Printing at the US Patent Office in Washington DC

Back in January Shapeways participated in a 3D printing conference at the US Patent and Trademark Office in Washington DC. Alongside representatives from EOS, ExOne, MakerBot, Stratasys and 3D Systems we briefed staff from the USPTO and other interested parties on the history, present and possible futures of 3D printing, and how they might interact with the patent office.

3D Printing Patent on Shapeways Blog

It was a fantastic forward thinking move by the patent office to recognize that this is an area of growth that needs to be nurtured to realize the full potential.  That while still protecting the intellectual property of those engaging in meaningful research, we do not close off the field with broad, over reaching patents that could really hamper the growth.  Along with the representatives of the USPTO and companies involved in 3D printing, there were also interested stakeholders looking at the world of 3D printing and patents from various angles, including those that might try and control 3D printing with a digital rights management system, and others such as the EFF are looking to keep 3D printing as open as possible.

Before you decide which side of the fence you sit on, be sure to read Michael Weinberg’s white paper entitled It Will Be Awesome if They Don’t Screw it Up: 3D Printing, Intellectual
Property, and the Fight Over the Next Great Disruptive Technology
 to see how patents play into the growth of 3D printing technology while his latest paper looks closer at copyright, patent and trademark for people using the 3D printers to make amazing things. like you.


  1. Kin Lane

    Excellent stuff Duann. Ended up reading for over hour, by click on on links.
    Such important discussion!

  2. T. Shawn Johnson

    When you write:

    “those that might try and control 3D printing with a digital rights management system”


    “others such as the EFF are looking to keep 3D printing as open as possible”

    You use two very powerful, and telling words: “control” and “open”. I feel that it sheds a negative light on those who would protect their designs, and a positive light on those who don’t respect a person’s right to do this. I addressed it recently in a blog article:

    1. Duann

      Hey Whystler,

      Thanks for your comment, and I totally agree that some things should be protected, and if someone wants to share that is their prerogative.
      I use the word closed with a specific link because a DRM for 3D printing implies a closed loop system for it to be effective. A scenario like:

      Disney sells you a 3D printer, disney sells you material, you download a file from disney for your 3D printer that is good for one print only thanks to the DRM. This is the way in which it might work. A totally closed system.

      For a DRM to work on any STL or STL2 would require that every 3D printer in the world comply with the DRM system which has been patented, meaning every 3D printer manufacturer would have to license that patent. I do not see the RepRap community embracing that or any of the commercial manufacturers.

      When I talk about open, I am referring to existing open source 3D printers out there in the world who are sharing their findings, whether in an academic sense or on some sort of community wiki. The EFF is looking to document these projects as prior art so that their work stays open.

      I do not think everybody should be forced to set their designs free and/or suck it up if they are copied, stolen or otherwise. Copyright is clear in this for creative works, patents, a whole other thing. Shapeways is only really successful if you profit from your designs and continue to keep designing and making things that other people want.

      If someone ever copies you creative works on Shapeways please let us know and we will ensure your intellectual property is respected.

      If you see a scenario where DRM could work for the Shapeways community please do let me know, I am open to any ideas that may help to make Shapeways, thingiverse, grabcad, a safe place to share ideas, and for you to profit from them.

  3. Anonymous

    I can see a situation in which a file could be made that restricts it’s use to a certain number of printings. In fact, I can see it as a benefit to Shapeways. It would open Shapeways up to the market of those who own 3D printers and wish to print designs themselves – assuming their printer was able to accept the file in question.

    So not only would we sell and ship designs that you print, as you do now, but we could offer the file for download for a lesser fee encrypted to allow only so many printings. Shapeways would take a base price for download, and the designer would add a markup.

    Let’s face it, it’s likely it’s only a matter of time before the 3D printer is as common in the home as a 2D printer. And if this is true, then you could certainly add file downloading as a significant income to your business model.

    1. Duann

      As much as I love this concept, if we have learnt anything from the other industries that entered the digital world is that once something is out there, it is very hard to control. DRM did not really work for music, games or movie piracy, each time a system was developed, it was hacked and shared on peer to peer networks. It would require the 3D printer to constantly update the firmware to keep up to date with the latest encryption key and may require us to continuously re-encrypt our entire database. (That is big).
      Imagine if you bought a file for a single 3D print, the print failed at 98%, and now you are calling up Disney’s customer service to get an extra download so you can finish your iPhone Maxi 9 donald duck nightlight for your kid. There are of course succesful precedents such as Ghetty Images, Pond 5, maybe even Turbo Squid but they all succeed without DRM.

      Thanks again for your input, it is an important discussion that we will need to have.

  4. T. Shawn Johnson

    oops, forgot to sign the above post.

  5. ADMR | Marcas e Patentes

    Great post Duann and nice discussion. There is a lot to be done in 3D print field and this require new research and much money. Protecting your project -or product – can be an easy way to attract more investment and evolve toward a disruptive innovation.

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