“I got a 3D printer for Christmas,” said everyone. “Now what?” Well, if you’re like most people, you’ll use it to make this (below) and that’s cool because we need more cat stuff in the world says, William D King.
But then comes the inevitable, “Hey, why not print out an iPhone stand?” At which point your mom says, “You can’t do that! That’s illegal!” And you say, “No it isn’t. I read it on the Internet.”
Here is how 3D Printing is Changing Intellectual Property and Invention Disclosure:
- And then your dad yells at you to go outside and cut the grass with scissors – because he doesn’t want you touching his lawnmower (because of safety concerns). So then you mosey on outside, but are totally confused about what is legal or not when it comes to reverse engineering something so you Google it…
- And lookee here – suddenly 3D printing becomes a whole lot less fun. But why? What’s changed now? Well, now everyone knows how easy it is to make stuff with commercially available, personal manufacturing devices they have right in their own homes.
- You know, like a MakerBot Replicator 2 (that’s what I have). This is not your father’s basement darkroom anymore – this is the garage of the future. So one day you get inspired and make this:
- That’s such an awesome idea! A smartphone projector that fits in my pocket? Perfect for sharing videos with my friends when we’re having a chillax evening at home. And then you realize, “Hey, wait a minute… I bet someone else thought this was a good idea too,” so you Google around. Sure enough there’s another guy who had the same cool idea but he didn’t stop there explains William D King. He invented his way to 100% ownership over it by filing a patent on it.
No, really. He’s the guy on the right:
- So you read up a little bit further and find out about his Kick starter campaign for this device to help him mass produce it at low cost. But, oops – he didn’t plan ahead and file patent applications in every target market around the world that this product might be sold in. So now there’s nothing protecting his invention from knock-off competitors who can easily copy/paste his design into their 3D CAD systems and start cranking them out before he can sell any of his own – because they don’t have to pay royalties or licensing fees or anything else. In fact, if they do it fast enough, maybe they won’t even have to worry about getting sued because by the time he can afford to sue, they have sales in place fast enough to offset any judgment/reasonable royalty award.
- This has become known as patent “bait and switch” because of course an inventor discloses all the best features of their invention up front (to make it sound cool) but doesn’t mention that they’ve actually claimed protection over those particular features (in every country of interest). That’s like buying a box of Cracker Jacks and finding out there’s nothing inside except for a tiny little piece of paper with a phone number on it – if you call that number, you win some money! Only this is intellectual property we’re talking about – not Cracker Jacks. And your chances of winning THIS prize are zero unless you do something fast.
- Let’s say, though, that this guy doesn’t want to sue the pants off of everyone else in the world just because they’re making a knock-off smartphone projector with his idea says William D King. Maybe he thinks it would be smarter instead to offer them an “invitation to license” so they can sell their knock-offs legally and pay him a royalty for every sale they make (instead of having to pay him damages if he sued). Here is what such an invitation might look like:
This type of letter typically offers three basic options:
1) The infringer may acknowledge that they have been infringing on your patent rights. By continuing to sell their product prior to any licensing agreement being reached. They will then be given a certain amount of time (e.g., 90 days). To completely stop manufacturing and selling the infringing product. In exchange for this, you will not seek damages from them
2) The infringer may offer to pay a one-time licensing fee in order to avoid incurring future royalties. If they decide to begin manufacturing/selling the infringing product again after their current inventory has been sold. This is useful when you want to sell licenses/get your money back before suing
3) The infringer may agree that they have been infringing on your patent rights. But insist that since no competing products will be released in the marketplace for a number of years. It would not cause any harm or damage by allowing them access to it now says William D King.
This is a really cool invention and having seen it in action. I want to be the first guy in line to buy one when they’re available!
Once you feel comfortable with your rights and options. If you still think it makes no sense to license or defend your patent. At least now you can sleep better knowing that you made this decision for a good reason. And that those who criticize you now won’t be able to accuse you of “not protecting your own intellectual property”. Because now you’ve educated yourself about all the options and reasons for patenting.