ONE of 3D printing’s great strengths is its ability to
make branded products customized
to your needs. Customization is starting to happen. Hasbro partnered with
3D-printing fabricator Shapeways so
that kids of all ages can create customized versions of Hasbro products, which
Shapeways 3D prints and either sells for
you or sends to you, on demand. This is
an incredible way to get additional mileage from old toy brands.
But 3D printing may also disrupt
brands. Let’s say Frank and Jimmy want
to 3D print a toy dump truck as a father-and-son project. They surf the Internet
and find a digital blueprint that vaguely
resembles a famous brand-named dump
truck. They download the blueprint and
print a fully functioning toy. Every time
this happens, the famous brand is one
step closer to ceasing mass production
of toy dump trucks.
The ability to 3D print almost anything may substantially reduce the need
and demand for branded products. Why
print a genuine product when you can
print a generic substitute, especially if the
blueprint for the generic is free? You may
even tweak the blueprint so that it looks
exactly like the name-brand product, and
then add the brand name. This may be
brand infringement, but it will happen.
So will people buy genuine branded products if they can more cheaply obtain blueprints and make (and customize) those
Perfect tools for counterfeiting
You name it and counterfeiters will be
able to make it with 3D printers. Virtually any branded product will be counterfeited with 3D printers by printing it with
or without the brand, or by printing a
generic product with a brand name on it.
3D printers will make it much easier for
enterprising counterfeiters to enter the
game, and counterfeiting will become
Brands are protected by trademarks
covering the brand name and sometimes
the look and feel of the product, such
as its shape or color, and sometimes by
other IP. Brand owners will have tools to
fight back against the counterfeiters, if
they can find them. This problem will not
be fundamentally different from brand
counterfeiting today, except that it will
be on a much larger scale.
Brand as savior
Maybe the brand will be a savior in a 3D-
printed world. To survive, brand owners
will be forced to provide added value,
which will lead some consumers to continue to want and even demand authentic branded products. Some customers
will pay a premium for genuine standard or customized parts and the verified safety and performance of the brand.
Others will print the parts themselves,
are needed immediately. For many parts
that consumers can 3D print, brand sim-
ply may not be important.
As 3D printing democratizes manufacturing, manufacturers will be forced to
police the marketplace for copies of their
products and blueprints, to find ways to
identify genuine products, and to try to
stop poor quality and dangerous copies,
and copies that infringe upon their IP
rights. Determining what products are
genuine will be much more complicated
in a 3D-printed world.
The author of 3D Printing Will Rock the
World, John Hornick is a counselor and
litigator with Finnegan IP. He advises
clients about how 3D printing may affect
Brand Killer or Retail Rescuer?
!thought leader viewpoint by JOHN HORNICK