3D Printer DRM Patent To Stop People Downloading a Car

During the last 20 years inkjet printers made an unholy mess of the short-run commercial print guy’s business, enabling just about anyone to print on anything from paper to plastics with a relatively tiny outlay.
During the next 20 years the 3D printer will be the bogeyman affecting industries both far and wide and large and small, by giving the man in the street the ability to print physical objects as easily as he can print a family photo today.
Downloading a car – or a pair of sneakers – will be entirely possible, although Ford and Nike won’t be particularly happy if people use their designs to do so. However, if The Pirate Bay have their way, that’s exactly what will happen.
“We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles,” said The Pirate Bay earlier this year announcing a new 3D printing section of their site.
But The Pirate Bay aren’t the only ones predicting a 3D printing free-for-all, and already steps are being taken to ensure that people of tomorrow are denied the freedom to print whatever they want.
A new patent, issued this week by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office and titled ‘Manufacturing control system’, describes a system whereby 3D printer-like machines (the patent actually covers additive, subtractive, extrusion, melting, solidification, and other types of manufacturing) will have to obtain authorization before they are allowed to print items requested by the user.
In a nutshell, a digital fingerprint of “restricted items” will be held externally and printers will be required to compare the plans of the item they’re being asked to print against those in a database. If there’s a match, printing will be disallowed or restricted. Japanese rightsholders are already pushing an ISP-level version of the same kind of system to nuke unauthorized music uploads.
“This is an attempt to assert ownership over DRM for 3D printing. It’s ‘Let’s use DRM to stop unauthorized copying of things’,” says Michael Weinberg, a staff lawyer at the non-profit Public Knowledge, who reviewed the patent for Technology Review.