I remember the dot matrix printer I used in college. It weighed about 50 pounds, and I almost broke my back every time I moved it. Plus, every document I printed on that monster was basically illegible.

In light of that experience, I must confess that I welcomed the news of California-based Divergent Microfactories’ 3D-printed supercar, “the Blade,” with a healthy dose of skepticism. The company claims a 0-60 mph time of around two seconds and boasts a maximum weight of 1400 pounds. It’s faster than a Porsche and lighter than a MINI Cooper. And you think those Indy race cars flip easily…

Print My Car!

3D IP Series: Now We’re Printing Fast Sports Cars? • 3D Printed Car Blade
The Blade uses 3D printed components for all the interior pieces and the exterior car grills. But some of its structural components are not made using 3-D printing technology. As Time Magazine reports, Divergent Microfactories plans to produce a certain number of cars itself initially, and sell the technology to smaller manufacturers so that they can fabricate the cars locally.

I think this means that they plan to perfect the design first and then sell it, and the 3D printing know how, and hardware to other companies that will essentially become decentralized factories. This turns the existing vehicle manufacturing and assembly process on its head—it’s truly a disruptive business model in that industry. Imagine if you could purchase your car from a local company and watch them build it (it’s like watching your vehicle roll through the local car wash)!

Divergent Microfactories isn’t the first car company to use 3D printing technology. A Swedish supercar maker is already using 3D printing to make proprietary parts for some of its high-performance machines. Jay Leno, an avid car collector, has been manufacturing certain parts for some of his exotic cars using 3D printing technology for years. And Ford recently announced that it’s looking into 3D printing as part of its technology initiatives in the coming years. What’s going on here? And how does it fit within our current intellectual property regimes?

No Rules, Only Intellectual Property Questions

Like any new technology, 3D printing improvements are beginning to challenge our understanding of copyrights, trademark rights, and patent rights. And 3D technologies raise many issues that existing laws and court decisions that interpret them have not yet answered. For instance, who is responsible for infringing an IP owners’ rights if a company is using 3D technology to print knock-off copies of Marvel’s superheros? Is it the company producing them, the person that designed them, the client who commissioned the work, or the parent who innocently buys the knock-off product? And is the company that supplied the raw materials responsible?
IP owners also need to think about how they are going to start policing their IP rights in this space. A number of 3D printing marketplaces (including Shapeways and Thingverse) already offer a platform for selling and sharing products developed using 3D technology. (Who wouldn’t want a set of 3DPrintit’s Exoskeleton Hands for work or play?)

Some IP owners are already policing those sites and asking them to take down infringing products under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Others are actually allowing fans to create their own fan art products that are based on protected designs, under a limited license. This can actually increase revenue derived from the IP. Hasbro actually partnered with Shapeways and allowed a group of artists to create fan art based on My Little Pony.

It will be interesting to see how companies approach the IP protection issues as the use of 3D printing technologies, and access to them, grows. Stay tuned – there’s more to come in this 3D IP series!

This blog is the first in a series of posts relating to 3-D printing and emerging IP issues. Stay tuned for more posts focused on new technologies that challenge the existing IP systems and the important role they play in our lives.