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(This editorial is based upon the “Comment of Stratasys, LTD. In Opposition to Proposed Class 26: Software or Firmware in 3D Printers to Allow Use of Non-Manufacturer-Approved Feedstock” (Docket No: RM2014-07), dated March 27, 2015. (1) Unless otherwise noted, all citations are from this docket.)

Everybody knows, and loves, Taylor Swift. She recently led the fight against Apple to make sure artists are paid for granting access to their “intellectual property” regardless of any marketing or promotional programs Apple runs. Whent1 Apple wanted to give consumers access to free music during a trail period for their Apple Music service, they did not plan on paying the artists during this three month period. Swift countered that Apple is free to give anything away they want, but that doesn’t mean they can avoid paying the owner of the music. Taylor Swift, like all the other artists, performed, created, and/or wrote the music and should be paid for their efforts.

When my local cable company offered a free year of HBO with my renewal, did that mean the cable company did not pay HBO for that year? I doubt it. The cable company made this offer to keep me as a customer – HBO did not. They, and every other cable channel, should not lose revenue just because the cable provider wants to give away the “intellectual property” of a network to win new business or keep existing customers happy.

What does this have to do with 3D printing? Stratasys, one of the largest 3D printing companies in the USA, found itself involved in a similar intellectual property situation earlier this year with the US Copyright Office. In the matter of the Exemption to Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control Technologies (Docket No:RM 2014-07), Stratasys t2commented on their opposition to this proposed exemption. In particular, Stratasys was against the proposal which would allow the use of non-OEM products in their 3D hardware and software products. They would, in a sense, lose control of their intellectual property.

In reading through the entire response from Stratasys, it is clear that they are trying to protect their intellectual property, just like Taylor Swift did. Stratasys developed and is responsible for many of the inventions and improvements that exist today in the 3D printing world. They invest millions of dollars a year in technology, product development, and marketing “in order to make 3D printing more accessible and widely adopted by current and future users.”(2) The co-founder of Stratasys, Scott Crump, invented Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and this patented technology has been widely adopted by many 3D manufacturers in existence today.

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What is also clear from this proposed exemption is that the Copyright Office thinks that 3D printing is similar to 2D printing. In their view, some of the 3D materials can be thought of as the “equivalent of ink and toner in 2D printers.” Having spent over 20 years at Hewlett-Packard, mostly in their Imaging and Print Group Division, I can assure you they are totally different technologies.

As Stratasys explains, and I concur, 2D printing on paper is bonding a consumable toner (or ink) “to a flat substrate, and therefore has no structural or mechanical properties’ requirements.” The “input” to a 2D printer is paper and the “output” from a 2D printer is still paper. It has not been manufactured or changed into some other structure. 3D printing, on the other hand, produces three-dimensional output that is built from whatever consumable build material the printer is using. Most 3D output is made from plastic filament, but it can also be made from metal, ceramic, nylon, resins, powders, composite materials and many other substances that are still in development today. 3D “prints” may event4 have different attributes depending upon the material used (flexibility, flame resistance, food-safe, etc…). In short, comparing a 2D printer to a 3D printer is an “apples to oranges” thing. They are totally different technologies.

So what is Stratasys trying to protect? They want to make sure that users of their devices do not have controlling access to the firmware and software in their products. Their fully-integrated 3D printing systems are “closed” systems and they want to keep it that way. They spent the time and effort in designing, developing, and continually improving their products so users will get the expected and repeatable quality results when using them. Allowing users controlling access to Stratasys’ firmware and software would, in their opinion, put 3D innovation at risk and might encourage others to misuse the DCMA exemption process for their own economic gain.

If the Copyright Office allowed users to have controlling access to Microsoft or Apple software products, the world might come to an end. Obviously they would never let this happen. I don’t see why they should treat Stratasys any different.

What do you think?  Let us know in the Stratasys IP forum thread on 3DPB.com.

 

1.   Petition for a Proposed Exemption Under 17 U.S.C. § 1201 of Public Knowledge, In the Matter of Exemption to Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control

2.  Technologies, Docket No. RM 2014-07 (Nov. 3, 2014) Press Release “Stratasys Successfully Defends Validity of FDM Patents” June 12, 2015

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