3D Printing Gets DRM

Recently I wrote about the changing nature of products as a result of increasingly available consumer grade 3D printing technology, a topic that continues to bump around inside my head.

Yesterday I read an article about a DRM system to address the exposure that manufacturers face with products printed using 3D printers for which the products themselves have not been printed.

The worry for manufacturers is that because the CAD files that carry directions for manufacturing objects are digital too, they’ll be just as easy to duplicate and re-distribute as an mp3 or a movie.

One big difference is that you can’t copyright objects. That’s because copyright applies to creative works but not to “useful articles.” You can, however, patent a new invention or product design, and Myhrvold’s system is a way to make sure no one prints patented ideas without compensating their inventor.

Ultimately this will result in the same fate that DRM for music had, which is that it will be circumvented and ultimately dropped in the interests of customer experience. Manufacturers will no doubt embrace DRM initially in a reactive mode to protect what they have, but over the long term successful competitive advantage will come from embracing 3D printing with new business models that reflect a redefinition of what a product is.