In the wake of Makerbot being acquired by 3D printing giant Stratasys, the stage for an IP (Intellectual Property) war is being set, between proprietary and open source approaches. Stratasys and 3D Systems are maneuvering to protect their IP, while designers who upload designs on repositories such as Thingiverse under a creative common license suddenly find their designs being sold without compensation.
With Singapore positioning itself as an Asian IP hub, combined with advancements in 3D printing, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) organised a consult session at the National Design Centre on May 30, 2014. The first event of its kind in Singapore, it brought together designers, engineers and entrepreneurs within the 3D printing sector seeking to understand how IP affects them.
e27 was able to gain a deeper understanding on this matter from William Hooi, the Principal at Hyperflow Asia and Founder of Singapore Makers, a community movement advocating technology and innovation in Singapore through maker culture. Previously involved in organising the annual Singapore Mini Maker Faire with the Science Centre Singapore where he was the Education Research Mentor, he now organises community development and educational events for Singapore Makers.
IP matters in Singapore
Hooi shared his views, crediting IPOS with starting the dialogue regarding IP protection in Singapore, covering copyrights and patents. Explaining the major issues at hand, he noted the potential for companies to perform patent trolling, where a company enforces patent rights against designers and manufacturers in order to collect licensing fees.
Framing it as one of open source versus proprietary battles, he explained that in Singapore’s context, misunderstanding and a lack of awareness about IP are major issues among many participants of the maker movement and 3D printing ecosystem in Singapore. They are unclear where the law stands, with stakeholders of the 3D printing ecosystem standing to benefit from an awareness of IP matters.
In Singapore, he noted that a lack of financial resources tended to hobble designers and startups in their quest to protect their IP. Startups and designers lack the knowledge and resources to navigate the complexities and challenges of IP law, unlike larger corporations who can afford to acquire the necessary legal expertise.
Given the evolving nature of the 3D printing ecosystem, as well as patents for core 3D printing technologies expiring in 2014, IP is a crucial concern that needed to be addressed. Noting that creative works can be protected through filing a patent, but noting there were other ways as well beyond just patenting, Hooi also noted that despite technical advancements, Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) would remain the preferred 3D printing technology for the near future.