Monday, April 03, 2006

Of patents and DRM

I was asked recently "If I'm so interested in 3D printing and printing objects, why do I talk so much about patents & DRM?"

It's fairly simple.

Advancements in printing technology (as well as novel use of existing technology) is creating a world where objects can be printed. There are obvious industrial benefits to doing so, not least of which is the ability to create shorter product runs.

I've written various papers on this over the last 10 years, however in order to make this post reasonably short, I'll summarise :-

The world is rapidly heading in a direction where objects (including electronic components) are printable and customisable, even the printers themselves.

Want a mobile communication device? Download your favourite design, tweak it with the wizard if you must and then print it. (batteries included).

This is much nearer to reality than most people realise, basic structures, basic electronic components (passive and active) have been "printable" for a considerable time, even batteries.

I'm a great believer in human creativity, and hence I would wish to avoid a a future where when the technology is widely available it is crippled to only allow "approved" designs to be printed - under a DRM for objects - for intrenched financial positions masquerading as consumer concerns (security, safety etc).

Patents which cover processes and outputs, such as "using inkjets to print interreconnects between electronic components" - the printing object equivalent of soldering two components together - could hinder progress. However, this is nothing compared to the possible mismatch between patent processes and duration and the pace of future development.

Direct printing of objects is an industrial revolution covering such concepts as "every home owning its own factory" to "ubiquitous manufacture" - many of our current processes and thinking will need to change as a result.

That's why I take an interest in DRM and the patents process.