by Larry Downes, Special to the Washington Post
Rapid price deflation for industrial prototyping has led investors to bet heavily on the consumer-oriented 3D printers that can make fully function items–including, perhaps in the not to distant future, food, electronic circuitry, and human tissue. Already, 3D printers are being used to manufacture highly customized prosthetic devices and spare parts for expensive industrial equipment that would otherwise require vast warehouses and expensive, aging inventory. It’s early days here, but dramatic improvements in production efficiency and on-demand fabrication are challenging our nearly broken copyright and patent systems, raising fundamental questions about both the need for and optimal duration of protections for industrial designs and processes. What inventions are being protected too much and for too long? Which aren’t being protected enough?