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3D Model Escrow

This is a quick note to record an idea I had in response to a conversation over lunch at “Connected Data London“.

The question was around how to enable 3D printing for the construction industry, or more specifically making 3D replacement parts, but this idea works for a lot more usecases.

There are a couple of problems here. First of all, taking a 3D scan of something and using it to make a copy is probably copyright infringement (I am not a lawyer). It also may infringe patents. The other problem is that for more complex shapes, there is no incentive for the copyright owner to help you — no business will help you make a cheaper copy of their own product, with the possible exception of celebrity chefs.

So here’s a possible future where everybody wins.

One or more trusted organisations set up a data escrow service. This service will hold the 3D print information required to make a copy of the part, with a set of conditions under which it will be made public. It also contain other design documents, manufacturing instructions etc.

A manufacturing company pays a small fee to the escrow service to hold the data for each product and to host the data on the web in the event that certain conditions are met. My first thought is that the data should become public if the part is no longer available on the market and isn’t going  to be back on the market in short order. These rule applies even if the rights to the part are sold on or the campany is purchased etc. because the copyright holder has given the escrow service the data under a license which allows them to share it under a public-domain-like-license if the product is no longer available.

This shouldn’t cost very much and gives the first mover a unique selling point. It has the advantage that the company can guarantee that replacement parts will be possible either from them or from anybody given the specifications should they go bust or stop that product line.

As more companies offer this service, it can be added as a preference or even a requirement on deciding suppliers. While the initial question was about the construction industry it could work for any manufacturing industry.

I like this idea because everybody wins — it doesn’t require anybody to work against their own interests.

Never appeal to a man’s “better nature.” He may not have one. Invoking his “self—interest” gives you more leverage.

– Robert Heinlein, “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long”

Posted in Repositories.

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