Archive for February, 2011

A 3D printed world needs a Birth Certificate for Ideas

On the eve of the first DMCA takedown notice in 3D printing, my post has become quite topical.

In a 3D printed world we will be able to make and reverse engineer anything. Any form can be copied, either through 3D modeling or scanning. It will take us a while to reach a time where “everything” can be copied but this time will come. Upheaval has already occurred in the movie and music industry but this will only expand as books and then all things are dragged kicking and screaming into the digital domain. If we look around the intellectual property landscape we can at a glance instantly comprehend that we are, legally, entirely unprepared for such a world. In this (yes, entirely too lengthy) article I”ll try to give an overview of the issues plaguing intellectual property today, then discuss some solutions and subsequently discuss some relevant examples of modern forms of IP  protection that seem to point to answers for us all. This is not some obscure lawyerly discussion. I might not do it justice. But, in my mind, the failure of the IP system is the single greatest threat to art, culture and business today.

The patent system is broken. Currently the costs of obtaining a patent are estimated to be $10,000 or above and it takes around 22 months to get one. 22 months is roughly a fourth of the entire lifespan of the company Facebook. Defending your patent is expensive  and in many cases becomes a contest of who has the deepest pockets. Rather than foster and reward innovation the patent system has become a silly game played by big companies in order to irritate each other. It is far too slow and expensive to provide for any real protection for the individual inventor and creator. The patent system is a languid rich man”s game in a world where everyone is connected to the same information and exposed to near instantaneous innovation.

Torrent sites have let a generation come of age used to getting their video content quickly and without cost. Meanwhile after more than 10 years of a consumer internet the music, television  & movie industries have been unable and/or unwilling to adapt their business models to a world where the transmission of information is immediate. Only recently have platforms such as Hulu & Netflix streaming have emerged which allow some people to legally view the content they want to when they want to. But, for most people it is still more convenient to download illegally than to obtain legal video content on the web.

Trademarks & copyrights are largely ignored on the internet. Content is largely appropriated, remixed, reused and spread around. I believe in letting creators decide what to do with their content and I also believe that the internet should encourage the spread of information as far as possible. I can not seem to come up with an optimal balance between the two.

Attributing content to their rightful creators occurs online but only irregularly. If an item is attributed then often you see that as the content spreads around the web the attribution is lost.  On some of the most creative and large sites on the internet, photographs & video are often posted without any information on the original creator.  By not giving any attribution to the original creator innovation and creative work are not rewarded.

We need to find out a way to reward innovation in a modern world. I”m not naive enough to think for a moment that the entire intellectual property framework can be reformed in any meaningful way in the near term. We”ll be able to 3D print moon bases before we have a working patent system. But, we need to develop mechanisms that would let us establish who created something, who remixed this thing and who popularized it. We need to come up with a system that establishes both a birth certificate and a chain of custody for ideas. In order to function this system will need referees. If we do this then business models could emerge that do indeed reward people for innovation. More importantly, by establishing the birth of an idea, its parent and how an idea spread we could recognize, laud and reward those of us who invent and bring ideas to the world.

A Birth Certificate for Ideas

The origination of an idea is precious and usually takes a lot of hard work in terms of working on that idea and in terms of understanding things that let you come up with that idea. It is much easier to just steal an idea and spread it. In an internet age the poachers will always beat the prey. By establishing a trustworthy “website of record” that anyone could submit their ideas to the inventor of a new idea could be established and in some way rewarded. Please note that this concept does not provide for direct monetary reward for the inventor. But, this person will recieve the recognition that establishes them as the idea”s inventor and hopefully the rewards whether they be in new opportunities, attention or by increasing their “brand.”

A Chain of Custody for Ideas

By establishing how an idea spreads and how it is remixed one could follow the recombinations and spread of ideas worldwide. This would reward people that curate and synthesize ideas for their efforts. Hopefully both the “birth certificate” and “chain of custody” would  bring attention to bear on the custodians of ideas and away from people that add little value but just appropriate ideas. Hopefully these systems will also bring about a true feeling of respect for the custodians of ideas and a passion in many people to reward them and see that they get their due.

Referees for ideas

Impartial people will be needed to determine who was first and who is truly original. Ideally these people should work quickly, almost instantaneously as product development and the remix of cultural goods will be instantaneous. Ideally they should also be as impartial as possible and motivated by a true wish to recognize originality.

Possible Solutions

There are already a number of developments happening now that are encouraging and could point a way forward.

Creative Commons

The Creative Commons movement already allows people to decide in which licenses to share their creations. The issue with the Creative Commons framework currently is that it lacks “bite.” Rarely have companies and indivduals been shamed for their appropriations of Creative Commons work. Also, Creative Commons is at its most powerful in combination with something like Flickr or Thingiverse. Flickr establishes the origination of a photograph and its birth by offering public photo storage on the web. You can basically claim an image as your own on Flickr and through the upload date establish when you created it. If the photograph is not yours the Flickr community could call you out on that. Without this public recognition it is difficult to enforce Creative Commons. I”ve often seen blog posts that use Flickr images with the correct Creative Commons attribution loose this attribution within one or two rounds of “reblogging.”


I-Depot is an easy way to establish that you invented something. You upload your idea to the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property and pay them 35 Euros. If you at one point enter into a legal dispute over your creation the I-Depot is an excellent form of proof that could protect you. But, the submissions to the I-Depot are confidential. So it acts as a birth certificate that no one is able to see. This would work well with things that you want to keep secret (while keeping your fingers crossed that no one else also invents it or patents it in your staid). But, the I-Depot does not publicly establish that you originated an idea. The I-Depot also leaves enforcement up to the courts and this is cumbersome and expensive.


Twitter could easily in its current form do a lot of the “birth certificate” functionality. Because tweets are public and can be seen by many people, ideas and “who was first” can be traced via Twitter to their origins. The weakness within Twitter happens if you invent something but Bob is quicker to post something. Also Twitter amplifies the loudest voices so your true idea could easily be ripped off by a more social media savvy internet user than yourself. This might rob you of your moment in the sun. And even if retrospectively you would receive credit for your innovation it might be too late for it to matter.


Reddit is a website that receives interesting links from its community. These links are then voted and discussed by that community and karma can be given by the community to members who say or discover interesting things. I love Reddit but it has been one of the worst offenders in popularizing unattributed content. Often the most popular things on the site are images that provide no link nor original name. Redditors are given karma points in return for their resourcefulness and efforts on behalf of the community but precious few of the creators of the works are. Reddit is however excellent in determining if content is original and the community has recently become much more pro-attribution. The referee functionality whereby the community determines what is original works well. The Reddit system would be an excellent system for determining the authenticity and attribution of all the ideas in the world.


There is no copyright in fashion. No other industry seems as obsessed with “the new” but IP anarchy seems to work for it. There have been many discussions by more knowledgeable people than I on fashion and IP. I”d like to concentrate on why, in my opinion, fashion as an industry works. The fashion industry works because of a powerful combination between that fashion obsessed cousin of yours, runway shows & Vogue.

Because each designer has a seasonal runway show “progeny” and “descent” is established. Because Vogue covers the shows and transmits them around the world people in the know everywhere know which designer is innovating and which ones are not. This piles on the pressure for further innovation and also stimulates more people to discover and research fashion magazines in order to understand the arcane paths of fashion innovation.  By fostering educated fashionistas innovation is also rewarded at the cash register. This is because these knowledgeable referees are cognizant of who brought back the legging this time. They will reward innovation and their recognition spreads brands and trends way beyond a core group of fashion fans. The fashion system is not perfect. As with Twitter a famous designer could still perhaps get away with ripping off an unknown one. But, the system is the most perfect one I”v found. So, the next time you see your cousin lounging with a fashion magazine please do not look down on her seemingly idle pursuit. She is shaping the multi billion dollar fashion industry by acting as a referee and that glossy advertising filled magazine is actually a “chain of custody for ideas” reporting on runway shows which are the “birth certificate of ideas.”

So what would a combination of I-Depot, Flickr, Reddit, Creative Commons, Twitter, Vogue, runway shows and passionate referees look like?

Well it would be a lot like Reddit is. In the sense that it is big, popular and a well functioning community that is good at policing itself.

People would post under their real names and their voting and posting history would be visible to all. I do appreciate and understand the benefits of anonymity on the internet but I think that if one were to write & vote publicly under one”s own name it would be more likely that more people will be honest. Want people to behave? Give them more to lose.

It will be a lot like Thingiverse or Flickr because it would act as a reliable public repository for IP.

It will have to be a lot like Twitter as a timeline.

It would have to be managed by an organization and individuals who are beyond reproach. If successful a repository that establishes the origination for any and all IP would be a very influential tool and its staff would be the final arbiters in complex and weighty disputes.

There would have to be some way to embed a unique code into any image, video, file on the site. That way this IP code could always be used to trace the origins of the content to a source URL and person. If the code were absent the piece of content would not be verified and so would be suspect.

The first string of the IP code would have to be personal identifier for an individual. The second string could be a string to identify an organization this person works for. A third would signify a date and a fourth the license under which it can or can not be shared. If you would use the piece of content in some way, your string would be automatically added to the IP code of the content item and to the website that held the original content submission. That way the two could be compared if need be.

An API could validate the presence and correctness of the IP code. This means that if the content was posted on participating websites the content could be checked and this could be displayed to users, getting them involved.

An automated visual and design search engine (a hyper TinEye) would automatically group similar designs or other content. This would let people check for similarities or breaches. This would also let people discover new things.

There would have to be an enforcement system. There would have to be a public list of companies that have grossly violated other”s IP. Hopefully the spectre of being on this list would be enough to dissuade only the most hardy.

For those who go even further campaigns could be started in order to pressure people into compliance.

The most important thing of all is that we would need to foster a culture of recognition of the new. Originality and novum are rare these days and will become rarer still as we are all exposed to the same information and as more information is created. We must let people value, love and recognize those of us who invent new things.

All images Creative Commons Attribution.


Lite Speed Photography


Who invented the Penrose triangle?

A few days ago Ulrich Schwanitz claimed to have 3D printed a Penrose triangle, hereto thought to be impossible. The news appeared on FastCoDesign. Ulrich did not want to disclose his secret and wanted to let people guess. Designer Artur Tchoukanov saw the post and managed to come up with a solution. He explained this through renderings and shared the solution on Thingiverse. Then Boing Boing posted about the solution. So who invented the 3D printed Penrose triangle? Was it Artur or Ulrich?

Ulrich was first, of this there can be no doubt. But, he did not disclose his solution. Artur did. If we make a paralell to Intellectual Property law and Ulrich claimed to have invented something but Artur disclosed it in a patent application, then Artur would be the inventor. Even if Ulrich could claim that there was prior art. This might lead to Artur not getting a patent but it would not lead to Ulrich getting it. Ulrich decided to keep his invention a trade secret. The risk you run when you do this is that someone else could, in the meantime, invent your trade secret. IP law is on the side of the “documented” inventor not per se the person who came up with something first.  

So while the honor of making the 3D printed Penrose triangle should clearly go to Ulrich. It might be that Artur invented it. What is invention? Is it the explanation of something? The sharing of knowledge? A documented first? Should the person that puts something online be credited?  And in the case of the Penrose triangle that dates back several hundred years how can we possibly troll through all the information to determine what exactly is prior art? Who invented this triangle? Well actually it might be Oscar Reutersvärd in 1934. This would mean that neither Artur nor Ulrich is the inventor.

The Penrose triangle story is an important one. If we all have access to the same information and if this information spreads near instantly across the globe this kind of thing will happen much more often. In this case all the parties were blameless. Artur never wanted to usurp Ulrich”s invention, he simply wanted to solve an interesting topology problem in his spare time. It was fun. But, the implications for innovation, design and manufacturing are enormous.

How would you prove that you were first with an invention or an idea? How would you document this on the internet? Just recently for example a person used a quote of mine without attributing it, again a fairly innocent example. But, if they post it on Twitter first while my quote is on a blog somewhere it is Twitter that would seem to be more authoritative. Why because Twitter lets you keep track of when something was posted, and lets others check this.  In fact Twitter”s greatest value is in establishing a timeline for content on the internet. For many things you can trace back the origination to a tweet and check when this idea was made.  If someone would want to check who made the quote, the proof would point towards the other person. Because I would have difficulty proving when exactly I posted my blog post while the other person could point to a Twitter status with an exact time and the content of the quote.

If we move towards a 3D printed world where many things can be replicated, copied and produced within hours the timeline of invention would be crucial. The intellectual property implications of living in a world where no one could be sure who made what when, are terrifying. We must reward innovation and we must recognize talent and creation when we see it. I am sure that Ulrich, Artur and myself all feel passionately about this. We must create a culture of attribution and develop mechanisms as to who invented what and when they did this. For designers, inventors, authors, artists and thinkers to be able to profit (in the broadest sense) from any of their creations we must attribute and we must develop ways of recognizing invention.

Far from being obscure, the 3D printable Penrose Triangle Conundrum points to the single biggest challenge for a 3D printed world. How to attribute invention and reward the inventors of this world. In a world where manufacturing is scale free and we can “copy paste” anything we need to solve this problem. How will we solve it?

This is how I ended the post a few hours ago, but meanwhile a DMCA Takedown notice was sent to Thingiverse to remove Artur”s solution to the Penrose triangle. So Ulrich thinks he has copyright and is forcing Thigyverse to remove the file that Artur created. I”m lost. But, this reaffirms me initial belief that we need to sit down as a bunch of grownups and have a discussion about the implications of this.

Naim Josefi”s Melonia shoe nominated for a Brit Insurance Design Award

Naim Josefi”s 3D printed Melonia shoe has been nominated for a Brit Insurance Design Award. This is one of the most prestigious awards in design and we are proud that this shoe was made by our company. We interviewed designer Naim Josefi to discover how the Melonia was made.

Why did you make your Melonia shoes? I designed the melonia shoe to show my view of the future, a better,made to measure, easier and more sustainable design with a touch of love. 

With whom did you collaborate with on the project? I worked with Souzan Yusouf, studying at Konstfack University of art and craft , to become an Industrial designer.

How did you make them? I left my design sketch of the melonia shoe to Souzan, which she formed in the 3-d modelling software Rhino. 

Are they currently for sale? Yes they are for sale, but I will when time is given produce the melonia shoe for stores. 

Are they comfortable? They are relatively comfortable, but they are not made for a stroll in town for a whole day. Although they will be and are able to be an extremely comfortable shoe because of the made to measure scanning process.  

Why did you choose to make them using 3D printing? I made them in 3-d because of the opportunity that 3d printing enables, you would not be able to make this type of design in any other kinds of techniques.  The secondary reason was my futuristic concept for the Melonia catwalk, a scent of the future in which futuristic techniques was the only right way to go hence the 3-d technique.

This is a video of the Melonia 3D printed custom shoe.

You can see the Melonia shoe and the other nominees at the Design Museum in London until the 7th of August. The Brit Insurance Design Awards overall winner will be announced on the 15th of March. Fingers crossed!

Impossible 3D printed Penrose Triangle: solved?

Artur Tchoukanov, the dsigner of the new 3D printed paperclip the Infinite Clip, loves topology and design. This is why he became intrigued by yesterday’s blog post about Ulrich Schwanitz’s impossible penrose triangle on FastCoDesign. Mr. Schwanitz would have seemed to 3D print a triangle that would seem to be mathematically impossible to make. Artur thinks he”s solved Mr. Schwanitz’s riddle on how the Penrose Triangle was made. He has put his solution on Thingiverse here to share it with others. As to how Artur came up with his solution? “The first clue was that the top face was in shadow (darker)… that let me to believe that it was a concave surface. Then I figured that they all need to be connected.” Artur then designed his solution using Rhino. So we’re curious to see if Artur did solve it? Or is there another solution?

P.s, this is not some 3D printing service pissing contest. Its rather more of a topology/geek riddle thing. Fun game though.

Free Shipping trial


Over the past months we’ve been actively looking for your feedback. We’ve used the information to improve our site and to come up with new ideas for the future. One of the suggestions we received several times was that we would have more orders if we offered free shipping. Currently we have a “perfect” pricing system. With this system we calculate the correct price for every part. We do this want to be fair and exact. With free shipping, in the final analysis everyone will be subsiding the New Zealanders. So intuitively this has felt “off” to us. But, if customers and community members continue to tell you that this would lead to more orders we’d be stupid not to try it.

So for the next four weeks we are offering free shipping on all orders, anywhere. After the four weeks we will analyze the costs and look at if this increases our orders and makes you happier. We will also then revisit this test with our community and ask you what you thought about it. If the numbers add up and you are satisfied with free shipping we might continue the trial. If not, then we learned from the experience. Keep your suggestions and ideas coming and enjoy Free Shipping from i.materialise from today until March 15th!

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Photo is Creative Commons, Attribution Jerry.

Cloning the RepRap Prusa in under 30 minutes

The grounbreaking research/hacking team at The University of Washington’s Solheim lab have begun cloning RepRaps. The RepRap project is a project that aims to make an open source self-replicating 3D printer. If sucessful this would make 3D printers available for the cost of the materials alone. At the Solheim Lab the Open3DP project is undertaking lots of research to support open 3D printing innitiatives. They have just now annouced that they can produce all the plastic parts for the Prusa Mendel in 30 minutes using molding. They call the resulting Prusa clones Clonedels. They represents a significant cost and time saving for producing the Prusa and should help put 3D printers into the hands of more people.

The Prusa Mendel  is the simlpest 3D printer in RepRap’s line up. Open3DP’s RepRap breeding program set itself a goal of producing ten Mendels in ten weeks.  The team redesigned the parts to they could be used for silicon RTV molding. They then 3D printed the parts and produced the molds from them. The molds have sucessfully been used to construct Prusas. Now the team has a new goal to release the STL files to the broader community so their innovation can spread.

This is, to me, dizzying stuff. An innovation such as theirs can now qucikly spread throught the Maker community. This kind of thing really illustrates how 3D printing and networked people can accelerate product development and innovation. By innovating at a constraint point, namely the cost of 3D printers this development can act as a catalyst for the entire 3D printing market. Bravo Open3DP

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Via Open3DP.

3D printing Rodin’s Thinker

Rodin’s Thinker is quite possibly the world”s most famous sculptures. In 2007 the Singer Laren museum was burgalarized and 7 statues were stolen. One of them was a Rodin’s Thinker. The men did not want to sell the statues but rather wanted to destroy them and sell them for scrap metal. 6 statues were destroyed but a badly damaged Thinker was recovered. The statue, with an estimated value of between 3 and $10,000,000 had been hacked in to by the men as the tried to take it apart so they could melt it down. Over these past years the team at Singer Laren have repaired the statue.

Two images below are of the broken Thinker.

The Thinker has a headache.

3D scans were taken of the damaged Thinker and of the original mold kept by the Musee Rodin in Paris and they were compared. Then Materialise was asked to 3D print the Thinker. We 3D printed the statue on one of our Materialise Mammoth machines, the largest 3D printers in the world. A mold was made of the 3D print and this was used by the restorers to restore the statue.

The restauration team studying a new part for the Thinker and a new part, based on our 3D print, in place.

Not only can we make your art with 3D printing, we can also resore it. The image at the top of the page is the final result as is the one below.

You can see the Thinker at the exhibition “De Denker Denkt Weer” (The Thinker Thinks Again) at the Singer Laren, which runs from 28.01-22.05.2011

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Have you read about the supercar interior we 3D printed? The 3D printed shoes perhaps? Or would you rather read the longest blog post you’ve ever read? Its about IP and 3D printing?

All images are Copyright Kees Haageman.

Cats don”t care about Net Neutrality, do you?

Cats don”t care about Net Neutrality, do you?

Currently all the information on the internet is treated equally. The bytes from Mary”s My Little Pony fan site are as important as the bytes from the websites of large corporations. Some sites might load quicker because they have better hosting but all the information enters your home at the same speed. The principle of Net Netraility means that Internet Service Providers can not discriminate between types of content  they are giving you internet access to and at what speed they give you acess to that content. You simply pay them a monthly fee and you get all the internet has to offer. All at the same speed. This gives all websites equal opportunity to get the word out and provides for the beautiful chaos made by millions of voices that is the internet today.

In only two days on the 16th the US congress will hold a hearing on Net Neutrality. Currently it seems that congress might repeal Net Neutrality laws and even prohibit the FCC from coming back to revisit Net Neutrality laws in the future. This means that the decision taken could be final. If congress should vote against Net Neutraility then Internet Service Providers could discriminate against types of content or websites.  Since ISPs control the access speeds that you have to websites they could censor or slow the speed at which certain sites reach you. They could make certain video sites slower and speed up others. They could amplify some voices and mute others. Speaking personally, this is a power I do not want the ISPs to have.

The plurality and freedom of information on the internet is what makes it so valuable to us all. Large corporations are already at an advantage by more powerful marketing machines. Large companies can currently also pay for better hosting so that their sites load quicker. They already have an advantage. If they could additionally pay ISPs to slow down other sites or block competitors completely the internet as a whole would be less open and less free. This, in my opinion, would stifle innovation and hinder the plurality of the internet.

Even if you should completely disagree with me please do take the time to read up on Net Neutrality and make an informed opinion for yourself.  You can read about net neutrality on Wikipedia. Since this could be the last time Congress gets to vote on this issue it is important you do so now.

On the 17th Public Knowledge plans to coordinate the voices of those wanting to protect net neutrality. If you do believe that Net Neutrality should be saved you can go here to find out what you can do to help. The internet has been pretty good to you, its time for you to be good to the internet.
The Internet Strikes Back

Image of the uncaring cat watching Fahrenheit 451 is Creative Commons, Attribution by Jetalone.

Image of “it was a pleasure to burn” is Creative Commons, Attriution by gcfairch.

i.materialised a fruit bowl

Mille et une fruits by Mika De Bruijn

I”m fascinated by graphic patterns and geometrical patterns in particular. Also, I was looking for a new item in my interior that could match both the modern style of my furniture and the souvenirs I gathered during my travels to North Africa and the Middle East.

Inspired by the “Honeycomb” fruit bowl in the .MGX collection, I designed my own version in Rhinoceros, incorporating the previously mentioned elements. Since a free form shape like this one is practically impossible to manufacture using conventional techniques, it was great to be able to print it through i.materialise.

-Mika De Bruijn

The Mille et une fruits bowl was 3D printed in polyamide on an Selective Laser Sintering system.

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February 5th to 11th 2011: This week in 3D printing

Tuesday 8th of February. This press release tells us a tale of an engineer using a Bits From Bytes RapMan to 3D print a scale model. This is interesting because a lot of people now consider “kit 3D printers” such as the RepRap, RapMan and Makerbot to be consumer 3D printers. Desktop 3D printers such as the Objet24 & UPrint on the other hand are considered to be for businesses. Where will the two markets meet?

Wednesday 9th of February. Public Knowledge and Michael Weinberg continue their victory lap around the internet with their Catan Story.

Friday 11th of February. Fabbaloo informs us that the Mcor paper 3D printer is spreading out its wings over Europe. 

Friday 11th of February. This week 1.6 million readers of The Economist are confronted with a cover story about 3D printing. The articles inside mention Stratasys, Shapeways and EOS and the subtitle on the homepage is a rather positive, “The manufacturing technology that will change the world.” This is a huge step forward. And this is one of those things that makes me go, “yippee this is happening, Now.” 

But, we must remember that currently our entire industry generates less Google search queries than the term Justin Beber. Not Justin Bieber the child singing star but rather the misspelling: Justin Beber. So we have quite a bit to go.

If you want me to include something, please do tell me below!