Intellectual Property and the Future of @Home Manufacturing

3D Printing & Imaging
Intellectual Property and the Future of @Home Manufacturing

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For an audio recording of this article, click play above.

The clash between intellectual property and cheap, distributed, additive manufacturing is both inevitable and predictable. It’s one of those deciding battles where for better or worse, the world is different afterwards.

The conflict is obvious – patents and copyright are about protecting and monopolizing ideas, while the line of development that manufacturing is following demands these ideas be created, shared, and improved upon ad infinitum. Trademarks are about brand control, identity really. That system is not included in this analysis.MAKEZINE_3DThurs

Within the next few years this issue will come to the forefront, with conventional design and manufacturing firms screaming about falling sales, all due to rampant production of unlicensed or open sourced (reverse-engineered) “stuff.” Imagine something comparable to “pirated” iPhone 5s being for sale at your local flea market (and online equivalents) for one-quarter the price Apple charges for it, and you watch them print it (electronics, antennae, screen and all) while you wait.

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Imagine the panic of investment banks, multinational corporations and governments around the world. The old system isn’t protecting our property! All because of this rapid prototyping technology some hobbyists made cheap and pervasive – now anybody can make whatever they want, or more importantly, steal something we paid or worked to develop without giving us a dime for our trouble.

We’ll be ruined. Something must be done.

You might think this is science fiction, but just three months ago Nokia released the specs to 3D print the shell of the new Nokia Lumia,
with the following blog post (excerpted)

“But in addition to that, we are going to release 3D templates, case specs, recommended materials and best practices—everything someone versed in 3D printing needs to print their own custom Lumia 820 case. We refer to these files and documents collectively as a 3D-printing Development Kit, or 3DK for short.

…..”In the future, I envision wildly more modular and customizable phones. Perhaps in addition to our own beautifully-designed phones, we could sell some kind of phone template, and entrepreneurs the world over could build a local business on building phones precisely tailored to the needs of his or her local community. You want a waterproof, glow-in-the-dark phone with a bottle-opener and a solar charger? Someone can build it for you—or you can print it yourself!”

First off, big kudos to Nokia for being so forward thinking. They see that by opening their platform, they increase the number of people who will love their product. By letting entrepreneurs build a business on top of their platform, they’ll find their products in more hands.

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Meanwhile, at the recent SXSW CREATE stage, a fledgling open source hardware project called BoardForge made its debut. The dream behind the team at BoardForge is to eliminate the necessity of ordering large quantities to produce high quality custom electronic parts, notably circuit boards. From their website:

  “We aim to fix this with an easy to use, affordable benchtop robot. Think MakerBot for electronics. Ultimately, the machine will etch traces, apply solder paste, place components, cook, and test. Version 1.0 places components.”

Like it or not, the capability to “pirate” nearly any consumer electronic device will be upon us sooner than anyone can imagine, and there are many industries that will fight tooth and nail to protect their existing business model.

I can hear some of you saying “just because the capabilities to pirate devices may exist doesn’t mean people will use them”, and that’s true, but it’s not really relevant to the conversation. The creation and enforcement of rules for new technology are always to control “the worst offenders.”

This not only doesn’t work to control the problem (as demonstrated daily by pervasive, ineffective DRM on all forms of media), it often catches the innocent or well-intentioned in its crosshairs and, desperate for victory, goes for the easy kill.

Modern “hacking” comes in two flavors, “white hat” and “black hat,” good vs. evil. Seems pretty simple who the legal system should devote resources to chasing… Right?

Award winning security researcher Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, also known as “the AT&T Hacker” was sentenced last week to 41 months in prison, three years of probation and ordered to pay restitution of $73,000 USD to AT&T.

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His crime? In his own words (excerpted) after being found guilty in January:

“In June of 2010 there was an AT&T webserver on the open Internet. There was an API on this server, a URL with a number at the end. If you incremented this number, you saw the next iPad 3G user email address. I thought it was egregiously negligent for AT&T to be publishing a complete target list of iPad 3G owners, and I took a sample of the API output to a journalist at Gawker.

One of my prosecutors, Michael Martinez, claimed that our querying a public webserver was criminal because ‘it isn’t like going to ESPN and checking your sports team’s scores.’

The facts: AT&T admitted, at trial, that they ‘published’ this data. Their words. Public-facing, programmatic accesses of APIs happen upwards of a trillion times per day. Twitter broke 13 billion on their API ages ago. This is something that happens more than the entire population of Earth, daily. The government has no problem with this up until you transform the output into something offensive to important people. People with “disruptive” startups, this is your fair warning: They are coming for you next.”

The very serious individuals who prosecute those violating the federal laws of our country are lawyers. They mostly don’t understand new technologies, they’re not really interested in inside jokes or details, and asking them to differentiate between good and bad seems a stretch.

Why would the unauthorized creation of objects that look similar or identical to existing, protected objects be treated any different?

The question is, do we wait for a “Something Must Be Done” crisis to force the issue or have the conversation like rational adults, letting fact and reality guide our hand?

We’ve Been Down This Road Before

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If we wait, the knee-jerk reaction will be Prohibition.

IP laws will pretty much stay the same, while a new government agency or two will be introduced to regulate “@home manufacturing businesses.”

This will probably take the form of a licensing scheme, where in order to own and operate an “@home manufacturing unit” you will need to take a class on intellectual property, pay fees for a license from the government, and put your identification number on every item that comes out, making your machine, and you, responsible for it.

The Good News:  A class associated with the licensing requirement will probably guarantee some minimum level of proficiency in operating the machinery. If a product is pirated, defective or fraudulent it’s easy to find out whom to punish.

The Bad News: By requiring a license, hobbyists and tinkerers may turn into outlaws and black-market participants by default. Those who do participate in the licensing scheme will have the advantage of fewer competitors, but since every product can always be tied back to their machine it introduces a whole slew of liability issues that haven’t even been considered yet.

When it comes to piracy, the assumption is every act is intentional, but how many ideas are there? How many designs?  Additive Manufacturing makes the entire design process “Think it up, design or scan it, create it on-site.” So where does the “research to make sure you’re not conflicting with anyone elses existing intellectual property” step come into play? Before or after you hit the print button?

Additive manufacturing is so important because it shrinks the minimum viable market size to one consumer. Is it the @home manufacturer’s responsibility to research every single design they are asked to print? Probably.

In this scenario, intellectual property liability insurance will become mandatory, inadvertent violations frequent and payouts punitive in the stated hopes of discouraging similar behavior.

But you can’t discourage creation once the potential of the tools are realized. It will be easy to get one of these machines, but expensive to get a license. So the blackmarket will flourish with the inevitable criminality that accompanies. The costs of prohibition are already stacking up, and we won’t even address enforcement here. But it doesn’t have to be this way…

A Collaborative Renaissance

Patents exist for a reason; innovation is not free or even cheap. But who says the way we’re doing it now works very well at all? Large producing firms defensively acquire patents as leverage in the event they are sued by a competitor. So-called “patent trolls” buy patents like lottery tickets while wielding the letter of the law as a thief would a gun; extorting value they did not earn while leaving their victims shaken and thankful more was not taken from them.

The individual inventor is in there somewhere, but with the process to patent a single idea requiring multiple years and thousands of dollars (not including legal costs), what average individual has the time to create ideas and protect them all using only his own resources? Not many.
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Lincoln said “The patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius,” and it did. But over the intervening decades the creosote of bureaucracy and abuse have slowly choked what was once a vital part of American free market innovation.

Nothing is truly one-size-fits-all, and while mass manufacturing has driven commerce since the industrial revolution, it has come at a cost. Centralized manufacturing has major expenses associated in the creation of even trivial objects; the mantra that “we’ll make it up in volume” leads to a zero sum way of thinking where your costs are fixed at a high minimum floor, but you have to compete with all other manufacturers in your space for the profit that remains. This is the nature of mass manufacturing everything; the culture it cultivates is one of technological stagnation and secrecy.

On the complete other end of the spectrum you’ve got a place like Thingiverse, where nearly every design is available for free and is open source. You can take anything that anybody else has made, change it a little bit, improve it, make it easier to assemble, mash it up with something you or someone else created, and then put it back out there for others to become inspired by your work and do the same. Each Thing has a page, and each page proudly displays the lineage of past Things it was derived from or based off of. The only thing missing here is the value proposition – some people use it to promote their other proprietary works for sale elsewhere, but mostly it is people collaborating to advance what is possible with the new manufacturing and design reality.
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The coming challenge is to take this virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle of innovation leading to more innovation, and transpose it onto for-profit IP.

A Thousand Bites at the Apple

If you have a new, profitable idea and you patent it under the current system, that’s great! But how do you make money with it? You could sell it (if someone wants to buy it, ideas are cheap). If you want to bring it to market yourself, you’ll have to find a manufacturer, financing, packaging, marketing, distribution, and on and on. Most patents are improvements to existing products, so what happens if someone improves your patented idea and patents it themselves? Not only is your old system obsolete, but if you want to upgrade to the newly developed “state of the art” there are very expensive licensing fees or redundant development costs while you re-invent their re-invention of your technology. Talk about wasting time and effort.

Instead, we should take advantage of our digital world – combine the concept of the Creative Commons’ Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 licensing scheme mixed with an open value transfer services like Bitcoin, while using Ricardian contracts to automate the whole thing.

The trick would be to design the system in such a way so you can have a single object purchased provide value to everyone along the path of its creation. Initially these relationships will be simple, but as the virtuous cycle kicks in things get complicated.

There would be a small submission fee to make sure people bring in designs that are at least a little thought through, say $10. If someone wants to examine your design in detail, it might cost $.50, if they want to print, modify, or use it: $1. Prices need to be low to encourage experimentation and use of existing designs.

The concept at its core becomes the worlds biggest modular “Lego” kit, where any piece of every design can be registered, tagged, and stored by its creator to be used by creators who follow. The fee isn’t a license for use, so much as it is a compensation for the time the new creator now does not have to spend designing the already-existing component, whether for use in a new creation, to produce commercially or just to print once for personal use.

In that $1 for a use fee, at least 50percent should always go to the current creator with payments scaling down to earlier creators, but never ceasing to exist entirely.

With Bitcoin and a project called OpenTransactions, you can transfer values as low as .00000001 bitcoin quickly to anyone else with virtually no transaction fees, automatically, with execution based on the fulfilment of pre-determined conditions.
Put simply, if I invent a innovative new doorstopper and upload it to this service, and then you came along and wanted to print it, you would take the other side of that contract, and in exchange for $1, have it sent to an automatically-generated bitcoin address. You would be sent the file and granted a license to print or modify under the condition that you make any improvements available under the same type of licensing conditions.

As the content creator, I only make and sign this contract once and then just put it out there for as many people to take me up on it as like my product. This remains just as true if my doorstopper is the 5th generation of novel improvement on that doorstopper, except there the $1 sent to the generated bitcoin address would be split up and distributed to all the contributors, based on a diminishing returns algorithm. The more time that passes and the more ubiquitous your innovation becomes, the less you naturally earn per use.

Compensated Open Source Innovation for All

Instead of focusing your time and energy on protecting your ideas and technology, it is suddenly in your best interest to make sure as many people see your innovation as possible, and if someone wants to improve it, that’s great! Not only do you have a monetary interest, but you can cheaply use their improved version and then build your own improvements on top.

For manufacturing, this means instead of having a contract with a content owner to create 100,000 of their product every six months, they could become “local manufacturing centers” that can make anything with designs acquirable through this system, paying $1 for each time they print a design and charging the customer the difference between the licensing and material costs, based on the prevailing market rate. For an additional premium, customers could work with a designer to customize the product to their tastes.
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For the creator, everything you build goes into the library, and if you tag your part correctly it will come up over and over as future innovators look for components to derive from, or consumers decide that they want your product created at a hub. This gives you control over what requires your time – your designs all have long tails, so you can stay focused on improving new ideas rather than protecting the ones you’ve already created.

This is a big problem; please tell me where I’m wrong and explain to me the things I just don’t understand. Until then, I think this could be a better way for a more productive and open future. It could quickly create a library of quality, constantly-improving designs that could be cheaply licensed and thus competitively manufactured in all localities while still providing value to the minds behind the design.

People want to create, and do it despite the hostile and confusing IP environment we find ourselves in. We might have continued along without having this conversation if it weren’t for all those hobbyists trying to make their dreams real, but that just isn’t the way things are headed.

I look forward to continuing the discussion with you in the comments.

Adam B. Levine writes about new technology & world events at He also curates The Daily MinufacturistThe Daily Bitcoin, and The Daily Exposure.

66 thoughts on “Intellectual Property and the Future of @Home Manufacturing

  1. John Nix says:

    This is probably the best way to advance civilization since the concept of the “Letters Patent”, hence “Breakages Ltd will do their best to prevent it from ever coming to pass.
    Still, I would like to see a 3-D Print Shop in every town- at first as an adjutant to the Public Library. James Jerome Hill, The Empire Builder, of Great Northren Railroad fame, and donor of Glacier National Park, probably would have supported it as advancing the wealth of every human being.
    (I remember reading that when the Chinese found out from Korean War POWs about home workshops they thought we had factories in our homes.)

    1. Adam B. Levine says:

      There’s a case to be made for turning libraries into something else, but I think the true opportunity is in building private businesses on top of the infrastructure we’re talking about here. The machines aren’t cheap, but they’re affordable when looked at through the lens of a profit seeking business.

      Since the price would be the same to anyone wanting to buy a part (for the design files, not the manufacturing) it would encourage a competitive landscape and regulate itself to the appropriate price.

  2. jb says:

    This is brilliant. The mindless autonomy of technical jargon and colorful fallacy perpetually confusing a listless and unamused short-attention span bureaucracy won’t do us any good. If it’s taken this long to figure out what the powers that be think might be best for the Internet, what are they going to do as technology accelerates faster than their inbox can handle? Lofty traditional IP practices stuck in a world before these technologies won’t be efficient or effective. I don’t need a license to go out into the woods and take a chunk of fallen tree and make a hammer handle out of it and by the gods of invention I don’t need a license to try my eyes at 3D printing. So basically if we don’t go a strategic, logical, appropriately-considered and objective way of making sure this new industrial revolution happens how it needs to happen best and we instead try to go the route of making hobbyism illegal and do things like certify people through IDs, someone can just come along and print a part for themselves with a forged ID, impale themselves on it, and sue me? And et al ridiculous absurdities caused by lack of foresight and over political tomfoolery more engaged in greasing hands than inspecting items for logic and credibility.. None of us own invention, the future owns invention always. The approach detailed in this post seems fair, considerate to invested parties, and economically-viable. On the other hand, when I figure out how to make 3D models that don’t make 3D printers have a seizure, I want to offer mine for free whether or not anyone will use them. I don’t see anything wrong with a sliding scale payment system and such a cheap scale does seem to offer a lot of room for experimentation, but I don’t think it’s impossible to reach a solution that also protects totally free open source creators and printers. Thanks for posting this, it’s an important conversation.

    1. Adam B. Levine says:

      Your comment about the wooden hammer made me chuckle because I’m actually going through a very lengthy and onerous process to be able to sell small batch artisan wood products we want to make on our property. Making things is no problem, but if you want to *profit* from making anything – You know, like as a job, you have to get multiple exemptions and permits. So far the process has involved more than 18 months, 10 individuals, hiring experts to do assessments and make plans costing thousands of dollars, multiple visits with officials to discuss the project, etc.

      Great folks, but the process to do just about anything is insane.

      1. jb says:

        That’s a useful experience to add to the conversation. It helps illustrate, as you offered, the difference between hobbyist and professional needs where guidelines/etc are concerned. As a hobbyist not intending to profit from the models I create/download and print for my own use, however, how is me going into the woods and crafting a hammer handle of my own design without first researching existing hammer handle patents and industry standards/regulations different than 3D printing something I model myself but don’t first research for IP red tape? I think this is an important discussion to really keep working at voluntarily long before industry and legal teams decide there’s something to poke and prod until innovation is a dead horse. I agree that a positive start to this with members of the DIY movement working on solutions now will exhibit a responsibility without a need to default to the courts and politicians to decide. Also, I didn’t intend to insult members of bureaucracy in general, I’m sure most are fine folks and standards do have reason. No one wants splinters or poisoning because hammer handle materials that have been mass distributed are of poor or negligent quality. But what if my kid wants to 3D model keychains to sell at our yard sale? What’s the difference in that and making them out of cardboard and construction paper? Yeah, I read about the kid that got in trouble for selling lemonade and all, but that makes no sense to me, either. What about when I want to make a keychain for myself? Do I have to go to the local licensed 3D printer store even if I’m not going to sell it? We aren’t doing a good enough job differentiating between spirit and letter of the law concerning innovation. Nobody even knows the letter of the law. It’s different depending on who you pay to be your attorney and how a judging body interprets everything. Can’t we just set up something like TinEye except specifically for 3D models/electronics? There’s got to be some kind of solution that comes of this besides spinning our wheels and locking up good ideas for ages for no reason

        1. Adam B. Levine says:

          The problem from my perspective is rules at every level are one-size-fits-all. We have a set of rules for people who don’t want to make money, and a set of rules for people who do want to make money – Since there is no subdivision besides “wants to sell something” and “wants to sell a million of that thing”, it means tons of rules are made for the huge user that make zero sense for the small user but must either be followed or exempted before it stops being a hurdle.

          And they are hurdles. So many things are just impossible without a whole bunch of money and time, and most people can’t make a living paying for the privilege of jumping through hoops.

          But getting back to the topic at hand, I really like the idea of not thinking about design ownership as “intellectual property” and more like an item you manufactured and sell copies of for cheap online.

          Treating ideas like we treat physical objects, does that make sense?

          1. jb says:

            In some ways. But moreover, I think we should revamp how we treat physical objects as well as ideas. Your proposal of a trickle-down system would certainly work towards both in my opinion. We need to do something. I’ll still hold onto the possibility that those that want to create and share completely free items for reuse, distribution, etc. can do so with some kind of solution that is versatile enough to be useful for purposes big, small, amateur and professional.

  3. Sheldon KB1HPK (@SQKYbeaver) says:

    F*** the copyright holders. A single item that came from your own time and effort and made from your own means belongs to you, PERIOD. Only if you start to share your plans for profit or not, patents start to matter but not before.

    1. Adam B. Levine says:

      Instead of telling rights-holders to jump off a bridge, it would be better to find other ways for them to monetize their interest with methods that protect their investment without putting crazy requirements on the folks trying to push technology forward.

      Imagine where we’d be with 3d printing if FDM hadn’t been locked away under patent until a few years ago? Imagine if RepRap had happened in the mid 90s

  4. Remmar Gorpa says:

    You know … I am constantly amazed at our cultural lack of imagination. Every increment in science and technology invariably ends up turning into “Oh my GOD, this will make me RICH!” Which then, unsurprisingly, translates in the mind of someone who is already rich into “SHIT, this will make me POORER!” Followed of course by a war between those who don’t currently have big bucks and those who currently do. It seems we are incapable of thinking (at least in large numbers) about science and technology as a means to anything other than a capitalistic end. In a different culture, something like 3D printing will be seen as more of a self empowerment technology, of taking people away from 3rd party manufacturing. But we are still primarily thinking of it as a way for a different set of people to join the wealthy class by selling to those who don’t make anything.

    (Oh yeah … just so you don’t waste my time and your time. Please don’t come back with “so what is wrong with being RICH?” That is like a vulture asking a deer, “what is wrong with carrion?”)

    1. Adam B. Levine says:

      I think our culture is ready for this, that’s why it’s happening. Individuals are pushing forward the state of the art (that’s available to consumers) but it’s not suprising there are vested interests who would love things stay the same.

      Without even getting into rights holders, imagine how bad this will be for cheap-stuff manufacturers in asia – Or manufacturers who make REAL counterfeit electronics – It will be terrible for their business to have domestic competition

  5. Adam B. Levine says:

    The term “Avocation” needs to be added back into our vocabulary – It’s the middle ground between hobbyist and professional… I’ve been using the term “Minufacturing” to convey the idea, thus my additive manufacturing publication

  6. lavall says:

    In the end progress in technology will always over-run our ideals and concepts. It will get to a point that the only control one has over their ideas ends once that idea escapes their grasp. Only through draconian and tyrannic overlords will such not be true. So it is either onto the future of freedom or back to the dark ages of slavery. It is not yours once it leaves your hands.

    1. Adam B. Levine says:

      “In the end” might be a long ways off, I really hope we don’t have to wait until then to put a functional system in place.

      1. lavall says:

        Me too.

        1. Adam B. Levine says:

          So what do you want to do about it? I’ve got all kinds of crazy ideas

          1. lavall says:

            Well the simple answer is if I can make it then it is mine to do with as I see fit. The harder answer is to work to change our culture away from the idea that an idea can be owned. It will take both a consistent stating of these new ideas as well as the consistent resistance to legalize the ownership of ideas. Unfortunately I don’t think any of our “crazy” solution will be used. Instead we will live through a rough and troubled time of laws and lawsuits. I know what the end will look like but how we get there does not look good.

  7. pcrippen says:

    Very thought provoking. Thanks Adam!
    As you mention, at scale it would be complicated to ensure that value is properly distributed along the innovation path. It wouldn’t take profit centered participants long to figure out that a string of shell “innovation entities” could water down the originator’s claim and redirect the bulk of value back toward their own organization.
    It would certainly be nice to have a good scheme available though. I’m ready for more localized “small is beautiful” innovation & production for food, energy, and goods.

    1. Adam B. Levine says:

      I know there are complexities that would need far more thought devoted than I’ve done in this article, but I think you’re right on that the “small is beautiful” moment is upon us – As we look around the world and see all these enormous one-size-fits-all “solutions” just fail to do anything productive, the question becomes “what do I or my community have the power to influence”

      The answer is local, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to invent it locally. I have two crazy ideas that tie together distributed compensated design with distributed sourcing and distributed manufacturing….

      Thanks for your kind words,

  8. More Mungojelly (@mungojelly_more) says:

    That article was really disappointing and confusing to me. The first half of course makes perfect sense– there’s no way to enforce intellectual property on 3D printers, yet people are going to try for political reasons. OK, so far so good. But what’s at the end of the fucking article? AN IDEA FOR AN INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY SCHEME THAT WE SHOULD TRY TO ENFORCE FOR POLITICAL REASONS. What?

    The unstated logic seems to be that people *will* comply with *this* system, because it has what seems to the author like a reasonable price, based on the vast amount of both wealth and police that the author is accustomed to. The price of $1 echoes for instance the “successful” copyright regime of iTunes songs; I put “successful” in quotes because of course it can only be considered successful if you limit your vision entirely to the only tiny group of people in the world rich enough to even consider paying $1 for a non-item; it has not actually succeeded with the vast majority of the world’s population and never, never will.

    The kids have their own intellectual property scheme now where putting “no copyright is intended” on your Tumblr makes it AOK. No, I don’t know what the fuck that means either, but neither you nor I can remove it from all the blargs on the interwebs, so it’s going to stay the law of the land. If you have a different idea than that of how copyright should work you’d have better luck realizing it by convincing people to put it in their headers and descriptions than by trying to get it into the law books; *nobody reads those*.

    1. Adam B. Levine says:

      Replace the $1 price point with whatever you want, the point is to make the cost a marginal part of production, so modify the number to whatever you think is appropriate. Keep in mind though that if you drop compensation too low, you’ll get few participants as they won’t see things being worth their time.

      And that’s kind of the point of my proposal – It’s not another “scheme” because a “scheme” relies on government enforced laws to make people follow the rules. What I tried to describe, and the only thing I really think could work is a system that is built on natural laws so that every group involved sees performance of their part as a reward unto itself. in our current IP reality a few people win, most people lose
      Current IP:
      Designer/Rightsholder has the advantage of complete control of their IP for 20-70+ years,the right to charge whatever they want for any kind of licensing scheme they can think up, complete control of who, where and when it is manufactured.

      Manufacturer: Limited products to choose from, high costs but high profit potential because of limited competition

      Consumer: Limited options to choose from, most of the options are considered “good” because they wouldn’t even be available for sale if they hadn’t already passed alot of hurdles. Prices are highly variable since one rights-holder might value their product at a wildly different level. Material costs have very little to do with pricing since there is artificially limited competition at the manufacturer level, and prices stay “high” relatively speaking to allow manufacturers to recoup their investment.
      Proposed system:
      Designer – Able to quickly move from finished-design to saleable-product, no need to invest in infrastructure. This allows the designer to move on to the next project very quickly, while putting the just-finished project up for sale immediately.

      Manufacturer – No barrier to entry besides equiptment costs. Many products to choose from, no quantity commitment so you can test a product in your local market without any kind of contract or investment, ability to customize designs as a further value ad, direct connection to the customer instead of traditional retailer model.

      Consumer: Unlimited choices, one-stop shopping for many categories of consumer items (or order online), everything is customizable to your size or tastes, lower prices because there are more manufacturers competing for the same customers with the same database of designs.
      Which system would you, voluntarily, want to be a part of? For me the answer is clear, and it’s also clear that the only system that can possibly work is one where people WANT to participate because they see it being in their own best interest.

      As far as “no copyright is intended” people are absolutely welcome to do that, and I envision the proposed system having “free” designs as well. Also maybe ad supported designs “Free mug design! Customize it to your liking! *Must have 1″x1” Starbucks logo somewhere on the mug when printed*

      There are so many options, I just can’t see any of these problems being insurmountable – What else you got?

  9. Adam B. Levine says:

    As an aside,
    That quote from Lincoln “The patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius”
    it’s true because at the time, the process to take ANYTHING from idea to market was a major investment of both time and money, as well as an enormous amount of trust on the behalf of the inventor and integrity on the part of the manufacturer. LOTS of things could go wrong, and if just about any of them did the inventor was financially ruined. Because of all the risks vs. the reward of successfully producing your thing and then having to go through all the trouble of building a market for it too, not much happened.

    So patents really did change things – By giving protection for a long period of time (20 years) to the inventor, they could freely share their idea without fear someone (most likely the manufacturer they’re working with) would steal it and cut out the creator.

    The problem is, none of those things that were problems at the time are problems any more, so we’ve gone from the protections enabling creation and sharing to the protections forbidding creation and sharing.

    Does that make sense?

  10. jonemo says:

    Just a quick not regarding your Nokia example, specifically the sentence: “By letting entrepreneurs build a business on top of their platform, they’ll find their products in more hands.” This is wrong. Nobody is allowed to build a business on top of that. You should read the license that comes with these files.

    1. Adam B. Levine says:

      Hi jonemo,
      I was speaking speculatively in the same vein as the quote that mentioned “entrepeneurs the world over” – That is not the current situation, it is the direction they are proceeding in long term.

      Thanks! You can check out my more recent writings at

  11. J says:

    Some really interesting ideas here…the thing missing from these conversations for me is always the desires of the creators, which you addressed. Speaking as almost a “former” musician, I could not understand people giving themselves the right to decide that my hard work, cost and effort was, and should be, free because they wanted it that way.

    It’s as lame to have Predatory Patenting as it is to have Piracy or individuals deciding to give away your work because THEY want to. I predict the same arc that happened with the Music industry where the system is abused, a company comes along and creates a unified platform (Itunes/Amazon), people start to realized the damage they are doing to the creators they “claim” they love and respect, and those who are brave enough to make things and not just take things are once again valued…just in a different way.

    …and Bit Coin may be that company.

    1. Adam B. Levine says:

      Great comment J, you’re absolutely right about needing to keep the creator in mind – In fact it’s important to keep EVERY party mind because if somebody feels like they’re getting a bad deal, the system doesn’t work!

      Since I wrote this article I have been furiously learning about and working with Bitcoin, I think you’ll find this prototype embeddable HTML Bitcoin Tip-Jar widget very interesting

      If you want to continue this conversation,

      1. resonantsoundgear says:

        Thanks Adam! I’ll drop you a line!


  12. Paul Fernhout says:

    Adam, I don’t think most people yet get the scale of the transformation that is happening in our society. As I explain on the main page of my own website, there are five interwoven forms of economic transactions — subsistence, gift, exchange, planned, and theft. The balance between them will shift with changes in culture and technology. What we are seeing with the open manufacturing movement is, potentially, a huge increase in the subsistence, gift, and planned parts of our economy made possible in part by exchanging information through the internet as well as lots of new freely shared designs and skills. At the same time, a combination of robotics (and other automation, all made possible by cheaper computing), better design (whether from hot or cold fusion devices or thin-film solar panels or better materials), and voluntary social networks (especially with volunteers cooperating through the internet on free and open source digital public works), are decreasing the value of most paid human labor by the law of supply and demand (suggesting the exchange economy be rethought with a “basic income”).

    I wrote elsewhere to Andrea Rossi about his (alleged) cold fusion device he is so secretive about to “protect”. The key point I made, the same as applies to open manufacturing in general, was that breakthrough clean energy technologies (or 3D printing or whatever) will change the very nature of our economic system. Such a technology will shift the balance between these five different interwoven economies we have always had. Inventors who have struggled so hard in a system currently dominated by exchange may have to think about the socioecenomic implications of their invention in causing a permanent economic phase change. A clean energy breakthrough or a 3D printing breakthrough will probably create a different balance of those five economies, especially back towards greater local subsistence and more gift giving (as James P. Hogan talks about in “Voyage From Yesteryear”). So, to focus on making money in the old socioeconomic paradigm (like by focusing on restrictive patents or copyrights) may be very ironic, compared to freely sharing a great gift with the world that may change the overall dynamics of our economy to the point where money does not matter very much anymore.

    We can talk about short-term issues of how to get from here to there without vast harmful disruption as well as how to survive economically as individuals during this social phase change like water boiling into steam (whether ideas you suggest about trying to reward people along the value chain or a “basic income” or whatever). But that is the big long-term picture as I currently see it.

  13. Paul Fernhout says:

    Here are some other issues to consider about motivation, propaganda, history, and taxation.

    If you look at stuff by, say, Dan Pink and a related RSA Animate video, is that people are motivated to do their best and most creative work by a combination of increasing mastery, a high level of autonomy, and by a sense of purpose. It turns out people tend to be less creative when directly financially rewarded for what they do. Now, it may also be the case that in our society people usually need money to pay for living expenses to have the time to be creative. But that could be handled by a basic issue and is very different from a reward for being creative. See also the writings by Alfie Kohn like “Punished by Rewards”. So, the whole psychological underpinnings of patents and copyrights are flawed in that sense.

    Here is that video:
    “RSA Animate – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us ”

    Also, as Richard Stallman says, using the term “intellectual property” begs the question of how copyrights, patents, trade secrets, trademarks, and other intangible things should be treated in our society. It is best to avoid that term and be specific. So, just using that term becomes part of a propaganda campaign for a certain type of economic viewpoint.

    Copyrights now last effectively forever, rather than the 20 years or so in the days when the Pony Express was used to move information across our country. Why should copyrights last longer when information flows faster? Beyond that, the US ignored all foreign copyrights (which means most of the global copyrights at the time) during about the first century of its existence, just like much of the rest of the world wants to do now in regard to US copyrights.

    Patents are a more reasonable balance because they are shorter (about 20 years), but even there, with patents of genes and software, and a rapid pace of innovation, they are more and more problematical. A big problem is that people are getting patents for obvious things to any practitioner in an art. Studies of patents these days show they have little if any real benefit to the common good (even if specific individuals or companies may benefit). Search on “patents slow innovation”. Patent “thickets” can have a chilling effect on innovation. For example, a modern smartphone may use literally thousands of ideas that have been patented, and so it becomes impractical to try to license them all when designing a phone. A recent succesful Kickstarter campaign by Formlabs that raised US$3 million for creating a cheap 3D printer was attacked by patent holders. So, patents can begin to slow innovation, not speed it up.

    Much earlier China had a death penalty for exporting silk worms (stolen by the British eventually) and then Britain had draconian penalties for exporting “trade secret” textile technology to the Americas. Again, the USA did not respect foreign patents for about the first century of its existence and gleefully took the British technology and made it its own, but now the USA is a champion of strong penalties to anyone who would do the same with technology that the US claims as its own for whatever reason.

    It’s amazing sometimes what we can learn from history that is useful for thinking about “modern” issues. But we have to look widely. In addition to Abraham Lincoln, why not also quote Benjamin Franklin on patents? He wrote: “Gov’r. Thomas was so pleas’d with the construction of this stove, as described in it, that he offered to give me a patent for the sole vending of them for a term of years; but I declin’d it from a principle which has ever weighed with me on such occasions, viz., That, as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”

    Besides, if copyrights and patents are “property”, why are they not taxed annually like real estate for the burden they impose on society?

    1. Adam B. Levine says:

      Hi Paul,
      Great comments – I will respond in detail later today, I think you’re bringing an important perspective to the conversation.

  14. プラダ バッグ 2012 says:

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