3D Printers

Innovative IP Business Model using 3D Printing, Creative Commons & Open Source

The example of the ‘liberated’ Fused Deposition Modelling patent owned by Stratasys, which Professor Adrian Boywer reiterated as open source in the RepRap Project is the foundation of most of the current wave of amateur, prosumer and increasingly also larger business orientated 3D printers. With a 2014-initiated 20-year IP protection now covering a period equivalent to the 100 years before it via the exponential rate of increase of rate of change of technology, new ways of catalysing innovation, profit and economic growth are pertinent. Here follows one example of an alternative approach using crowd funding, crowd sourcing, open source Creative Commons licensing, social networks, gamification and 3D printing.

COMPANY 1 manufactures vacuum cleaners, product 1 and product 2. The products have five mechanisms and design elements that are unique and original. COMPANY 1’s R&D budget produced four of these five: A, B, C & D. The fifth, E, was a Creative Commons design from another company, COMPANY 2.

COMPANY 1 has chosen to copyright elements A and B. Elements C and D it has left open source – the former Creative Commons attribution. Their strategy is to produce a user community of home 3D printer users and amateur CAD designers to crowd source innovation, thus use Creative Commons for attribution for element C: The returns for COMPANY 1 include a rapid innovation of design elements, and marketing kudos via brand awareness (Creative Commons requires COMPANY 1’s name and logo on all iterations); and element D is copyrighted with a provision that its 3D CAD / printing community may use the design for free to innovate.

COMPANY 1 sees that its reputation is enhanced by this innovative approach, design media enthuse, even Forbes reports upon this strategy. It sees that innovation is accelerated by a strategic mixture of standard copyright, Creative Commons and open source.

Whilst the open source can be used by competitors, a key strategic factor for COMPANY 1 is that the standard copyrighted elements A and B, B being currently intrinsic to the function of C (the Creative Commons element) preventing those competitors from gaining immediate free R&D. COMPANY 1’s analysts calculate sufficient strategic advantage even if competitors did benefit significantly from the freedom of usage of the Creative Commons (or open source).

The very opposite of patent trolling, the market receives a boost of acceleration of development. The explosion of innovation seen in the RepRap project (open source) for home 3D printers and success of MakerBot (closed) have by now provided an example of the merits of a more sophisticated range of copyright approaches, cited often by COMPANY 1 in it’s blog, press releases and quarterly reports. COMPANY 1’s shareholders are both informed of the concept, extant example of success and benefits for R&D expenditure relative to end unit sales and the key innovative approach: ‘repairables.’

Element C, the Create Commons design element, is the least dependable (in terms of breaking) design feature of COMPANY 1’s vacuum cleaner. Standard corporate thinking suggests that inbuilt obsolescence should be maximised within the bounds of comparative competitive products to force existing consumers to buy new products.

This ecologically unsustainable approach is seen by COMPANY 1 as not only being a green marketing opportunity in itself but has begun to raise the cost of material A, which has been mined at great demand by Chinese companies in Australia and Africa, increasing scarcity, thus inflating prices of that commodity.

Many home 3D printers are now able to print in material A. COMPANY 1 has even allocated R&D budget to produce a small range of home 3D printer filaments and extruders in this material. This is the least central part for any company using this whole strategy… most ‘repairables’ will be simple design elements made of plastics or, possibly, ‘wood’ compound filament. PLA, the sustainable plastic made from maize starch, is by far the most popular for repairables, given its cheap cost, ready availability and green marketing benefits.

The outcome is that COMPANY 1 cultivates a modest community of 100 designers (other projects using this strategy in this theoretical extrapolated scenario have attracted up to 10000) of all ability levels, who produce 300 design variations for element C in six months when the project hosting is ended. COMPANY 1 now chooses the best designs of the 300 and adds them to its free repairables download: a .AMF 3D printable digital design.

The Creative Commons approach has been used on the hosting webpage: a set of sub-pages on COMPANY 1’s website in the fashion of a cross between social media and GitHub [the open source computer programmers site, ‘Forking’ being the most important part from GitHub, where the evolutionary tree of a communally shared piece of code is produced by cloning and establishing offshoots].

Designers have been motivated by benefitting from marketing their talent, reputation enhancement and extending their design portfolio with a high profile project. COMPANY 1 has stated in its T&Cs that the project will be hosted online as long as possible (with no legal guarantees from a liability perspective) after it has closed to facilitate the use of URL links to the site for participating designers to cite in their CV / portfolio. Students and amateurs have leapt onto this potentiality for their career, professionals attracted by intrigue and their own enhancement of prestige / gravitas.

A surprising number have simply participated for fun, as 3D printing continues to capture headlines in its initial post-hype realisation / actualisation phase (c.2014 – c.2018) regarding cultural ‘cool’ and the usage of gamification by other similar 3D projects in recent times having created an early culture of leisure home 3D printing activities (such as Company X’s ‘Design Your Cola Bottle,’ Company Y’s ‘Design Your Spaceship For Hollywood Movie Space Battle Scene,’ etc.).

With COMPANY 1’s approach, customers are then allowed to download free repairables, in a variety of designs from the open design.

COMPANY 1 is perceived by it’s market audience as increasing its product’s life cycle, offering added value, being genuinely concerned with its customers, offering personalisation, much marketing awareness via press releases and savings in R&D.

Many customers are excited by the extended life cycle. The company charges slightly more for product 1 since opening its open design stage. COMPANY 1 has copyrighted the production technique for its unique material 1 filament, which is required for the repairable.

Net sales benefit hugely from the exercise.

COMPANY 1 continues to defend its copyright on A, B and D. A and B for themselves as product components and D to defend it for the use of its open design crowd sourced strategy.

In time, COMPANY 1 is purchased by COMPANY 2, which provides a vast array of homecare products. COMPANY 2 uses almost entirely open source and Creative Commons with a huge emphasis on open design. Its sheer volume of innovation has on one hand produced a range of independent start-ups by its designers and on the other hand pushed COMPANY 2’s technological advantage far ahead of its other rivals. COMPANY 2 strategically seeks to purchase some of the better start-ups that result from its open design projects. The vast array of personalised repairables from COMPANY 2’s projects are collated on its 3D file repository webpage for ease of use by customers.

The increased web traffic is itself used for other profit opportunities such as links to its original product store, advertising revenue and its other pure profit making services.

COMPANY 2 is more successful as it does not seek to profit from filament sales, allowing it to market itself as offering more free elements than any other homecare product provider.

Projection: Protecting the varieties of copyright in this strategy and particularly understanding their merits by diversity becomes a growth trend in intellectual property. Experienced knowledgable lawyers able to determine the difference between a mistaken 3D print of a copyrighted element, a mistaken breech of copyright by a participant in an open design project, and the newfound importance of Creative Commons during the ‘Forking’ process as open designs evolve are rare. Those with strong sector awareness from 2012/13 onwards become the favoured lawyers of choice by companies such as COMPANY 1, 2, X & Y.