If you build it… they will rip it off.
Criminals will use 3D printing to steal over $100 billion a year in intellectual property by 2018, according to a report by Gartner, a Stamford, Conn.-based information technology research and advisory company.
What's more, the threat might not be coming from where you're thinking, according to the report, which was released on October 8th.
"At least one major western manufacturer will claim to have had intellectual property (IP) stolen for a mainstream product by thieves using 3D printers who will likely reside in those same western markets rather than in Asia by 2015," the report states.
The ever growing capabilities of 3D printers coupled with their continually dropping prices make the 3D printing world too ripe of a plum for criminals to ignore.
"Importantly, 3D printers do not have to produce a finished good in order to enable IP theft," the report states. "The ability to make a wax mold from a scanned object, for instance, can enable the thief to produce large quantities of items that exactly replicate the original."
Which means yet another facet of the 3D printing world is probably about to mushroom – the legal side of it all.
Much of the talk out there about 3D printing and intellectual property law these seems to focus on scenarios in which private people fire up the old 3D printer at home to make single replacement parts for the little DIY projects we all come across at home.
Need that little plastic piece that holds the rearview mirror in place? Why buy one when you can just make one with your trusty 3D printer?
"All this may be heading towards a world in which people do not buy consumer goods any more but instead download them from the Web and print them themselves," Simon Bradshaw, Adrian Bowyer and Patrick Haufe predict in their legal review article "The intellectual property implications of Low-cost 3D printing".
That's a far cry, though, from someone intentionally mass producing cheap knockoffs of designer products and selling them for half the price.
The Big Innovation Center points out that governmental agencies are going to walk a tricky tight rope as they create laws to protect companies' research and development investments while maintaining an atmosphere of openness that allows innovation to flourish.
One such area filled with pitfalls for government regulators will be the need to stop the proliferation of 3D printed guns that tend to blow apart in people's hands while not clamping down too hard on all innovation, Big Innovation Center writers point out.