From creation to manufacturing, protecting the IP of a 3D design is challenging, especially when an STL file can be so easily shared from peer to peer. Watermark, a security application from 3D design library Treatstock aims to address this.
Speaking to 3D Printing Industry, Treatstock head of marketing Rufat Bayramov said that the company was inspired by the “prevalent issue of copyright violation” to develop the free online software.
Treatstock Watermark allows a designer to upload an STL file and integrate it with hidden “watermark” information before being put in the public domain. An STL file can also be uploaded to the platform and checked for security information.
The problem of IP protection
As previously reported, design attribution among 3D creators is governed by little other than etiquette. This makes it easy to steal other people’s work and pass it off as your own.
In industrial design, Washington D.C.’s Atlantic Council think-tank identified theft of product design files through industrial espionage or hacking as a key risk when using 3D design, which they labelled “compromise.”
Steps are being taken within industry. Identify 3D and Renishaw have collaboratively produced a secure end-to-end digital manufacturing process. This solution is, however, limited to high-end industrial applications.
Other solutions include the spectral signatures added to 3D printed parts by InfraTrac.
How Watermark works
Watermark allows a 3D designer to upload most binary and ASCII STL files. Customized security information can then be entered. Optional password protection also limits who can see what the watermark is. When uploaded, the download link for the first watermarked file will be sent to an email.
Watermark claims that its embedded data is “almost impossible” to detect, duplicate, or change. At the same time, integrating information makes “no structural changes” nor does it leave any “visual marks” on the final design.
The company asks users to “compare it with traditional watermarks on bank notes where the identifying patterns are only visible when the note is held against a light.”
Tracking with Watermark
The current Watermark system already allows a designer to produce a unique watermark for each time they send a file to a customer, a manufacturer or marketplace.
If the model is then found to be distributed online illegally, the specific distributor can then be found, and there are grounds to file a claim of copyright infringement.
Treatstock said that it was “also developing a system that can track and automatically notify the author of the watermark when their file appears on a website to indicate the legal and illegal distribution of the file.”
Limitations of Watermark
Watermark’s limitations are both physical and technical. Physically, the service does not support color extensions, and the free service only allows up to 10 STL files a day to be uploaded.
The service’s technical limitations are a greater problem. Because there is no physical remnant of the watermark on a 3D design, once a Watermark embedded STL file is sent to a 3D printer, the IP information is no longer effective.
In the comments to a YouTube video, Treatstock Manufacturing Marketplace admits that completely changing the mesh of the file also removes the Watermark information.
Treatstock did add, however, that “such changes are likely to affect the geometry of the 3D model which sometimes can be critical to the outcome of the finished product.” A separate review by YouTube user MakersMuse showed that even extensive distortions to an STL file (without remeshing) retained the Watermark data.
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Featured image shows the Watermark logo. Image via Watermark.