Sure to be an ongoing bone of contention as 3D printing and 3D scanning become more popular, intellectual property issues will get increasingly more ink in the coming months.
As 3D design files are shared and reproduced locally, they'll also be exploited for monetary gain.
Recently one Canadian designer and entrepreneur took his displeasure at seeing his files used commercially without his consent to the courts and, as he is quick to point out, settled what he says is "Canada's first STL file IP infringement" case outside of court.
Michael Golubev, the founder, creative director and CEO of ProductShapers and 3DPrintler.com, created 3D designs for upgrade parts for a DJI Phantom quadcopter, a remote-controlled helicopter. In due course, they gained some traction on Thingiverse.com, and his success with those designs led him to turn what had been a hobby into a business.
After a few months of the files being shared on the web, Golubev was informed that his original 3D designs were being resold as physical objects in hobby stores such as CanadaDrones.com. Golubev contacted the owner of CanadaDrones.com, and says he was surprised when the owner was immediately cooperative.
The owner of the shop told Golubev he'd acquired the files from the Sales Manager of a Mississauga, Ontario-based company, Anubis 3D. Things took a turn when Golubev was told that the Anubis employee told customers he was working directly with the designer of these parts.
With that information in hand, Golubev decided to file suit against the person responsible for selling the 'pirated' 3D printed parts.
Once the wheels were set in motion, things moved quickly and Anubis Manufacturing Consultants Corporation terminated the employment of the responsible party and settled their part of the suit. If you want to read the details, you can review the case on Golubev's site here...
As for how Golubev thinks the suit played out and how it might affect 3D print designers in the future, he said it's a regular topic of discussion among his friends and fellow designers.
"Reverse engineering is a great area, especially with the advancement of 3D scanners and 3D printers," Golubev said. "I hope our case can help establish some guidelines. I'm a member of a local makers group, and we often raise this question. Most people have different opinions as to what's considered 'safe' (in re-designing parts). Some consider changing over 50% of the 3D object will void any claims, but it's really not determined (legally) and there's no awareness yet."
According to Golubev, he believes there is a way forward for the intellectual property system to work in the future with regard to 3D printing and design and Creative Commons concerns.
"We're yet to see how this develops, but I think there's a lot of potential for cloud streaming platforms such as Authentise and Secured3D," Golubev said. "If the file is never shared online but streamed, this can remove problems with illegal file sharing."
He added that his suit wasn't filed for purely monetary reasons, but to make a point to potential pirates.
"It was more about standing up against 3D pirates and showing others it can be done," Golubev said. "We only got $117 – which pays for initial court fees – but we did receive an official letter of apology and the person who engaged in the pirating activity was fired. (He) engaged in unethical activity, and I give props to Anubis Corp. for following up and cleaning up the mess."