We have worked with pharmaceutical companies, most of which spend $1 billion to develop and market a drug, if it is successful. When they go from animal trials to human clinical trials there is a good chance that they will lose the drug. In fact, 65% of the drugs that are developed in the labs that go through successful animal trials are thrown away once human clinical trials commence because what is good for the animal is not good for the human.
We tell them, we’re going to print you a truly 3D little organoid – let’s say a liver from human cells. We take human liver cells and we build a 3D little teeny tiny liver that still can be maintained in culture and we tell them, OK, why don’t you try the drug on the 3D human structure and if the drug does not work and the little liver dies, well then don’t go any further because chances are that when you put it into a human, it’s not going to work. We are already working with some pharmaceutical companies and they realize the value of this.
Even if we’re never able to print an organ, which I don’t believe, because there are already good results, our ability to print expanded 3D structures will have serious and very far-reaching implications and applicability in many other places.
Speaking of news reappearing a year later (we’re risking some sort of multi-node self-reflective temporal singularity here at Futurismic, folks, so hang on to your hats): this time last year The Economist ran a piece on “printing” human organs for transplant; this week, we have a piece at Discovery on a bioprinter that takes a few cells as a sample and knocks up a sheet of new skin [via BigThink]. All good news… though it’s worth remembering the spectre of genetic intellectual property disputes lurks in the wings awaiting its musical cue (I’m thinking bassoons with a hint of cello, plus stabs of Moog voluntary), meaning that spats about the copyright status of fabbed creations may shift from discussing physical reproductions of optical illusions to claiming someone cloned your liver without your permission. As snarkily suggested last week, at least there’s plenty of work in the pipeline for the legal professions. Shame we can’t just print them off when we need them and then churn them up for feedstock, hmmm?
Old Duchamp would be proud, I like to think… though given the responses of other postmodern artists to similar events, I’m probably being overoptimistic on that point. Nonetheless, the future shows no sign of waiting for us to reach an accommodation with it, and you can now get yourself a fabbed facsimile of Marcel’s iconic “readymade” urinal museum piece [via BoingBoing].
As mentioned before, copyright on physical objects is a lost cause, though I doubt that’s going to stop a phalanx of windmill-tilting IP knights charging into battle as the terrain churns like liquid beneath the hooves of their horses, and the lawyers slip in to their vulture costumes off-stage.
And hey, 3D printers are getting pretty close to the point where they can print copies of themselves, too… so at least the futile carnage should be short lived.
If you think we’re struggling to police the duplication of non-physical items on the internet, just wait until 3D printing gets a little bit more commonplace. Here’s a sort of soft-run test case at Fabbaloo, wherein a Thingiverse user subbed a set of playing piece designs for the Settlers of Catan board game. Copyright infringement? Well, possibly not, at least as things stand:
Another view comes from website Public Knowledge, who have taken the time to analyze this a bit deeper. Their approach was to examine each of the methods of protecting ideas: Copyright, Patent and Trademark. What did they determine?
- Copyright: They believe that copyright extends only to the images and logos used by the game. Since the Thingiverse objects don’t include or attempt to include the images, they likely don’t violate copyright. The object designs are effectively not copyrightable, since they are simply common shapes and would be considered “functional objects”.
- Patent: Patents are typically used to protect the rules of the game, rather than its components. In this case, the inventor did not patent the game, and even if he did, it would be expiring in 2015 anyway.
- Trademark: A trademark protects only the icon or symbol of a product. In this case, the Thingiverse submission did not use in any way the trademark.
It then appears that the offending Thingiverse user is likely not offending at all. But if that’s the case, then this opens up a pretty wide hole in the generation of intellectual property. We may see a lot more “functional objects” appearing in the future, and it’s not sure how this may affect the inventors.
One thing’s for sure – there’ll be no shortage of work for lawyers.
For my money, a sure mark of a technology reaching maturity (and market acceptance) is when the purely aesthetic customisation options start to appear…
Bonus future-points for the fact that these are being made using rapid prototyping / 3d printing technology. Mass production, pah!
[ Can’t actually remember whose Google Reader recommendations this piece came out of, so – whoever it was – please accept my apologies and an ambiguously-directed hat-tip. ]