Protecting your 3D Printed Products?

Hey everyone, I’m currently saving up money to purchase a form 2 printer and I wanted to get an idea what everyone was doing to protect their creative designs.

To get more in depth, I’m worried about what would happen if things I made were copied 1 to 1 and mass produced and sold under a different name in China.

This has happened to a 3D printing puzzle maker Oskar van Deventer, where he discovered someone in China had bought his puzzle, took it apart and made an exact copy, packaged it under a new name and sold it.

I can understand when it comes down to it, you really can’t stop someone from buying your product and then making copies and selling it, but I was wondering what measures has the community taken to counter this.

Do you submit patients for every 3D printed product you make? And if you do, is there an annual fee to renew them? Has anyone had trouble where they caught someone selling their designs and had to legally deal with that?

Any kind of advice and experience would greatly be appreciated.

If you didn’t apply for a patent you’re going to have issues going after that company. If you have enough documentation you’ll be able to fight but good luck in China.

If you think you might have something new that needs protection there are alternatives to a full blown patent (at least for the short term). A provisional patent is probably the most reasonably priced but it only lasts for a year. A full utility patent is a much more expensive proposition but it’s the only way to truly protect yourself.

My suggestion for you is… If you want to go after the company that stole your idea get all of your data together first. Get all of your dates together that go back to the start of the invention. Then look at their patent. Find out not just when it was issued but when it was applied for. If you were first it’s worth asking a patent lawyer for advice on how to proceed.

Fun fact utility patents need to be filed in all areas that you want protection for (US, EU, China, Japan, etc.) .

I’m named in a couple of patents here at work. They aren’t cheap if you want them done properly.

The real issue here is China, Russia and some of the other countries that don’t have any laws protecting intellectual property. Regardless of what patents or trademarks you’re going to get here, you won’t be able to enforce them in those countries.

So the bottom line is to resign yourself to the fact that as long as you will make your model available, if it’s desirable enough, someone will copy it.

I see this all the time with miniatures, action figures and statuettes being recast and sold. Sometimes, you know they are knockoffs, because they say things like “Asia version” or replica, but a lot of times, they’re being sold as the genuine article to folks that can’t tell the difference, and that’s unfortunate.

3D printed items at least would need to be “reverse engineered”, but if you make the 3D CAD model available, then you are really giving up the keys to the treasure box. So you’ll have to think hard about what you want to make available and how.

You can file a patent. There are two kinds of patents - design and utility.

A design patent is going to be a very limited protection to an exact knockoff of your work.

A utility patent aims to protect certain aspects of functionality (or utility) of a device. It can offer broader protection but is significantly more difficult and costly.

Depending on your work you may also be able to get some protection from copyright or trademark, but it really depends on what you are doing.

Regardless, you can expect someone in China to knock you off if you are successful. You likely won’t get much protection inside China, but you can protect yourself in the US or EU. While China will still knock you off, any place they are trying to sell their knock off will most likely respond to cease and desist or takedown requests with the proper documentation.

Actually China does have IP laws and patent protection.

There have been many cases of China imprisoning people in charge of companies that sell “copy” or “knock off” products. The companies that did the crime normally pay damages as well (well they do for big companies at least)

They do and they are getting better, but the cost and odds of a good outcome don’t make sense for the average small to mid-size company.

There are enough cases where this didn’t happen as well. Pretty arbitrary over there.

Just expect someone is going to copy you and make sure you have the best quality, service and product. You can’t stop it. Only thing you can do is sue the people who are importing your products as they cán be stopped.

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The thing that I took away from the piece that Oskar wrote was not so much ‘how can I prevent this happening’ as ‘how can I turn this to my advantage’

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Thanks for input everyone. Now I have a better idea of what options are available.

You’re right billb, his story does lead to a good ending with him turning the situation to his advantage. But in his case he was lucky to have had a close Chinese friend who was able to track down, communicate and ultimately help negotiate a deal with the people who were mass producing his product.

But for the average person, we may not have a close friend in China who would be able to do us such a favor. I just posted Oskar’s story more as an example of what is happening with some 3D products in general.

Depending on the nature of the design (3D artistic works, for example), copyright laws may apply, which are different than patent laws, and address other kinds of products and provide different kinds of protections.

In the US, for many objects, asserting copyright protection does not require registration or paying a fee.

“A copyright notice is an identifier placed on copies of the work to inform the world of copyright ownership. The copyright notice generally consists of the symbol or word “copyright (or copr.),” the name of the copyright owner, and the year of first publication, e.g., ©2008 John Doe. While use of a copyright notice was once required as a condition of copyright protection, it is now optional. Use of the notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require advance permission from, or registration with, the Copyright Office. See Circular 3, Copyright Notice, for requirements for works published before March 1, 1989, and for more information on the form and position of the copyright notice.” -


If the design is art- rather than, say, a mechanism, it is already protected under copyright law and in the US and Europe copyrights are rather well enforced.
You can register a copyright- which is actually rather affordable- but it is not required to prove you own the copyright.

Copyrighted work should have a copyright notice physically engraved or embossed on it… as fair notice- its not required to protect the work… but if your work does not have a physical notice of copyright then the violator can always claim they did not know it was copyrighted, and you can not get any money out of them in litigation. ( if a digital file- some from of watermark or notation in the file - but a printable file should have a copyright notice on it that will print )

The only problem with patents and copyrights is that you are legally required to defend your rights against all encroachment… that means that if you become aware of a company or person who is violating your copyright or patent, you HAVE to address it.
You send them a cease and desist letter, and if that doesn’t work, you file a lawsuit against them.
Failure to defend your copyright or patent can void your rights and place your design in the public domain. If a company can show that you knew of other violations and did Nothing to stop them, you can lose your rights.
One way of enforcing your rights is by court order.
If, for example, you find a company is illegally mass producing your design… it is not that hard to get their incoming shipments seized at ports of entry by customs. Customs enforces copyright and patent thru simple court orders… and that is probably your best bet as to financially punish offenders.
It is really hard to get any kind of financial recompense from patent or copyright offenders because most of them are small corporations that evaporate the minute they are sued.

What the 3D printing world really needs is a form of digital rights management similar to how iTunes distributes music or movies- where it becomes much harder to pirate files.
This would require printer manufacturers and online file vendors to adopt universal file formating structures that could track file usage and printing…

It would revolutionize the printing industry and bring serious talent to the printable file world… but I see no company currently even trying to implement such a system.

As a 3D modeller, I can tell you that it’s (currently) impossible to prevent someone from taking your work and redistributing it. Even if you build a copyright notice into your 3D model, it would take about 5 minutes for someone to remove it or cover it with commonly available 3d modelling tools.

If you sell the physical model there’s absolutely nothing that can prevent an interested party from scanning it, or making a cast of it and reproducing it in mass quantities.

Worse still are those that will take an existing work, add a few things or make a couple of changes, then proceed to openly sell it as theirs as “derivative work”, even though derivative work usually means getting permission from the original design owner.

As a small self employed artist, without the budgetary means to defend your work in court, it’s nearly impossible to prevent something like this from happening. Your only hope is that your product and the service that comes with it is better than what the rip-off artists can provide.

…and of course, you manage to have a continuous supply of new pieces to put on the market.