On a micro level, any consumer can purchase a 3D printer and make custom products or copy existing ones - from clothing to kitchenware. No tool or die-casting is required because the printer does it all. While the quality of a consumer-grade 3D printer will not typically meet the quality of product created industrially, the technology is improving rapidly.
On a business scale or macro level, a manufacturing renaissance of sorts is set to occur as 3-D printing cuts costs, allowing companies to bring manufacturing back to domestic shores after years of turning to cheaper labor markets overseas.
At the same time, though, some other domestic manufacturing jobs may evaporate as 3D printing machines can operate 24/7 in a lights out factory.
"Future sales may be of designs and not products," Hornick said. "Major disruptions of traditional models of manufacturing, distribution and retail will occur. You would print at the point of distribution and have just-in-time printing. It makes sense to print down the block and not in another country where products need to be shipped."
Hornick also sees a time when open collaboration between product manufacturers helping each other by sharing plans and ideas.
James Malackowski, CEO of Ocean Tomo, which provides financial products and services related to IP services, research, investments, risk management and transactions, sees a day when the IP related to 3D printing may be traded like other IP is today.
For example, the Intellectual Property Exchange International today facilitates non-exclusive licensing and trading of IP rights with market based pricing and standardized terms, he said.
Three dimensional printing, however, often has multiple levels of copyright ownership, from the CAD files to the management software to the physical printer, so there could challenges in obtaining all necessary rights and reliable distribution of licensing fees to all the parties involved, Malackowski said.
"In some cases you may not even need a copyright at all," he added.
There are other legal issues as well.
If someone is sold a CAD file to print a product, and that product is faulty and causes injury, "who would be legally responsible?" Malacknowski asked.
Industry collaboration, where companies work together to ensure standardized software that is of high quality, is one possible approach. Another would to simply allow the market to set the path - with good CAD designs rising to the top and bad services dying due to lack of popularity.
"The market will set you free," Malackowski said. "Just look at Yelp! Or Zagat. It's not the city food inspector that ensures quality."
Tyler Benster, cofounder of Azavy, an online store for 3D printed items made via crowdsourcing, people don't expect to pay much for printing plans online, based on the early days of the business.
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