A patent has been awarded to The Invention Science Fund, an organization holding patents for former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures company.
What does this patent do? It's a method to implement copy-protection on your 3D printer!
Wait a moment - Does this mean we will be unable to print some of our favorite 3D models on our personal 3D printers?
No, not really. The patent, which happens to be written in a very general and vague fashion and thus is applicable to most current and envisioned digital manufacturing processes, is simply a concept. In order for it to become real it would have to be:
- Implemented in 3D printer hardware by manufacturers
- Implemented in 3D model repositories
Both of these are unlikely to happen in the near future, for several reasons, not the least of which is that the 3D printing industry is in a strong growth phase and the last thing the manufacturers want is any constraints on printing.
Meanwhile, some designers no doubt wish to somehow protect their works from rampant copying and illegal redistribution. There's not much they can do at this point because not only have the printers not implemented this feature, but the designers (or their online repository systems) would have to pay royalties to Intellectual Ventures.
We think Intellectual Ventures is merely speculating on the future of 3D printing. If it really takes off, in the distant future someone may wish to have a copy protection mechanism - and then they'd have to pay Intellectual Ventures, unless some other approach is used instead.
This is the game plan for Intellectual Ventures: create, acquire or otherwise scoop up as many patents as possible and then charge everyone for infringing on them unless they pay licensing fees. It may seem to be an unethical business, but it is certainly legal.
No worries on this one for many years to come.