3D Printing and Technology Monetization
There are many complex legal issues surrounding 3D printing, but let’s start with a simple point. These devices are going to reduce the value of many future patents. Why? First, they will make infringement easier and more common. Second, 3D printers will reduce the distribution costs of many patented items, which will reduce the margins that some manufacturers can earn. This latter effect will not, I think, be as great for patents as it was for copyrighted music, as there was a distribution model there (bundling on CDs) that gave music studios a significant markup that is not present for most patents. (To the extent that patents are bundled, the item in question may simply be too complicated for a 3D printer to make.)
How will firms with patents respond to this new environment? One thought is that they will seek to restrict 3D printing through legislation or litigation. (More on that another time.) Another thought is that, in some marginal cases, firms may look more favorably on trade secret. Or perhaps technology or design firms will have to find other ways to monetize their creativity. Trademarks are one possibility, embracing the 3D world and facilitating the spread of CAD files (3D printer software) is an option, and substituting into “printer-proof” patents is a third way.