3D Printer DRM?

Hmmm… from Technology Review:

Most 3-D printing has been done in industry or by hobbyists who share their designs freely online. Now Intellectual Ventures, the company run by Nathan Myhrvold, the former Microsoft CTO and alleged patent troll, has been issued a patent on a system that could prevent people from printing objects using designs they haven’t paid for.

The patent, issued Tuesday by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, is titled “Manufacturing control system” and describes methods for managing “object production rights.”

The patent basically covers the idea of digital rights management, or DRM, for 3-D printers. Like with e-books that won’t open unless you pay Barnes & Noble and use its Nook reader, with Myhrvold’s technology your printer wouldn’t print unless you’ve paid up.

“You load a file into your printer, then your printer checks to make sure it has the rights to make the object, to make it out of what material, how many times, and so on,” says Michael Weinberg, a staff lawyer at the non-profit Public Knowledge, who reviewed the patent at the request of Technology Review. “It’s a very broad patent.”

The patent isn’t limited to 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. It also covers using digital files in extrusion, ejection, stamping, die casting, printing, painting, and tattooing and with materials that include “skin, textiles, edible substances, paper, and silicon printing.”

Like I said… hmmm…

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  1. In a way this might actually hinder broad adoption of DRM in 3D printing as now you’d have to license that from Intellectual Ventures or risk getting sued.

  2. Horrific!!!

  3. They totally ignore non-obviousness requirement for patents. And they’re doing it for a while. I know that things which seem to be obvious after you learn about them often are not, but here is the combination of the old methods in the very similar field of application.

  4. Without some sort of currently unavailable copyright protection for 3D objects, this is a no-op. First, it’s likely to go down about as fast as every other DRM system has. Second, it can only apply to 3D CAD files, not any representation of a given group of objects. Third, the relevant analog hole is wide and getting wider as 3D scanners get cheaper. Fourth, for the first three reasons, no-one is going to be willing to pay enough to make this worth developing into a usable product.

  5. <sarcasm>
    Hmm, seems like I forgot to DRM enable my DIY 3d printer.

  6. See Cory Doctorow’s short stories “Printcrime” and “After the Siege”, from the collection _Overclocked_, available online under a Creative Commons license:


  7. I have to agree with @Victor. Once you think "I want to DRM my design!", everything after that is straightforward.

    I also have to agree with @Adrian that this will most likely set back efforts at creating DRM-crippled 3D printers, since anyone trying to do it will have to tussle with this guy.

    But my favorite part is in claim 16, and this list repeats in later claims:

    "The method of claim 1 further comprising: enabling the manufacturing machine to perform if the authorization code meets the one or more predetermined conditions, including performing three-dimensional manufacturing using one or more of metal, wood, ice, stone, glass, ***nuclear materials***, pharmaceuticals, edible substances…" [asterisks added]

    So those of you thinking of selling a printer that can print out nuclear weapons designs at a loss, but then make that back by charging your customers a licensing fee for each weapon printed (sort of like inkjet printer ink), you’ll need to get a patent license from Mr. Myhrvold…

  8. This is what I get for not publishing.

    I have a digital storage oscilloscope, and it was apparent, after the “Let’s Go Crazy” kerfuffle, and the limits on device capabilities built into Windows Vista, that there needed to be a way to prevent me displaying traces of signals and information that were copyright, and which I had not acquired the rights to. In light of that, it was obvious that a central registry was required, to which all scope traces would be submitted for clearance before they were displayed.

    At the time, it seemed too stupid to publish. So now there’s no prior art, and here we are.

  9. >>it’s likely to go down about as fast as every other DRM system has. <<

    I'm not sure what you use, but DRM is always in my face. It's there in music, it's there in the videos my kids watch on the TV and on the computer. The only time it's not there is with indie stuff, but all the popular movies and songs are protected.

    This really sucks, but we all knew it was coming. As it becomes mainstream and more capable, there's no way companies would ignore it.

    To make it work, all it will take is for models to be offered only in some encrypted package that can only be opened on DRM-capable printers. Then, it will be like music and video today: indie stuff will be open, but the stuff most everyone wants will be DRM'd.

    As to the patent: I'm dismayed that such a broad patent was issued. I mean, come on.

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