U Washington's best-of-breed 3D printing lab shuts down knowledge sharing after administration introduces sweeping patent-grab

Michael sez, "The Open 3DP lab at UW has been doing some amazing things with 3D printing. More amazingly, they have prioritized sharing what they are learning with everyone else in order to make 3D printing better. A change to UW's intellectual property policy has essentially forced them to stop sharing what they are up to with everyone else. That strikes me as shortsighted and a real shame. The folks who run the lab say that the best thing to do is to email Provost Ana Mari Cauce at provost@uw.edu and tell her to let the lab share again."

The UW lab is the source of some of the most amazing and relevant 3D printing research in the field today. This is an absolute travesty.

Since approximately, October 17, 2011, we’ve been a little bit more guarded about what is going on in our lab and perhaps a little less helpful or open to some of you. We’re sorry. Our University has decided, with no faculty involvement to change our consulting/engagement forms...

This “minor” change in our consulting form has produced a claim of total University ownership of any and all intellectual property (IP) associated activity paid or unpaid (in which one should or might have gotten paid). Thus, if we help you, or offer advice (free consulting), we put you at risk of losing any and all of your IP in the transaction.

Sorry we’re not so Open lately (Thanks, Michael!)


  1. Before jumping too hard on UW’s current provost, it’s good to be aware that she was not provost at the time that these policy changes were discussed or went into effect.

    Also, keep in mind that Washington state has cut its support for UW by more than 50% in the last couple of years http://www.washington.edu/discover/budget/ This kind of IP grab is one consequence of that. 

      1. Really? Surely there’s some fine print to that distinction… you mean in this engineering category, or generally in the State of Washington?

          1. No, that’s not quite right.  It used to be true, but the University of Michigan passed UW in 2009 in total federal research funding to public universities.  I believe that Michigan kept the top spot in 2010 and 2011, but it has to be fairly close — within a few percentage points (which translates to millions of dollars, of course…)

          2. Thanks for the info/correction, laramie.

            If this is true, then I guess I should say UW received the most federal funding in the nation up until 2009 (since 1974) of all public universities. And, since 2009 UW is still among the top receivers of public money for research in the nation as well.

          3. I don’t know why they get so much public money. But I do know this means they should think twice about bogarting on public access to their research.

          4. Good lord. I had no idea. Is it related to Boeing?

            I would have thought that the University of California system would rank up there, with all those medical schools.

    1. What is the point of giving them any funding if they’re not going to make their reserch available to the public?

  2. I hate to say it, but I think this is going to be more and more common for universities organizations that provide support for such “Maker” activities.  There’s a conflict of interest for these institutions that says “We’re here to better public understanding of…” and a push to capitalize on any IP they develop. 

    I think if the Maker community (a very broad spectrum btw) wants to continue to grow in these places, we’ll need to find a happy middle ground for sharing vs. ownership.  I think some of the Maker companies (Makerbot, Shapeways, etc.) need to be at the forefront here.  If not, there’s a risk it will go it’s own way and the incentives to share and the creative process might not make it to the other end.

    Here’s a start – Share  or open source techniques and allow individuals and  universities to share in ownership of the finished product if produced with the universities resources.  So that technique for smoothing out a cylinder on a 3D printer would be shared, and the final product could be owned by the university and individual if it’s developed there.  If not developed there (eg. developed on a home system) then no IP is owned by the university but credit needs to be attributed for the technique though.  The university wins by getting part ownership in the creative process by many individuals, they at least get attribution and status for contribution, and they don’t have to fight legal battles on IP.  The individual gets to share in some cutting edge/bleeding edge techniques, doesn’t have to worry about getting sued or put out of business, and has a partner who would likely publicize and market anything they do.  Win-Win if you ask me.

    Not a perfect solution, but a start.  Next idea….

  3. The term Intellectual Property has destroyed our economy in ways that are unrivaled by any war mankind has suffered.  The very nature of the phrase is offensive in the utmost to the ideals of this nation and it’s function is entirely net negative to all people involved.  That we allow this ridiculous abstract to persist and destroy speaks volumes to the ignorance of our own populace.

    1. I would tend to agree with you.  I just wonder what sort of system would we use as an alternative.

      How for example would we prevent plagiarism?  Should we even attempt to prevent plagiarism?  I am curious to see what people think about that.

      1. We need intellectual recognition not intellectual property the very idea that someone could own an idea is ridiculous.  Instead what we do is give people 10 years to commercialize there idea and at the end it goes public no matter what.
        They still get recognition for beening the first to think of the idea up but after 10 years they have to start work on new stuff you know to increase are culture and improve society instead of having an idea stagnate for 150 years, you know what copyright and patients and intellectual protection was meant to be about.

        But as long as the people in charge are rich they will ruin everything for the rest of us for what? more money than they can ever spend ever.

      2. The system we had for over two hundred years seemed to work fantastically. Maybe that one.

        ALL science is plagiarized. Mostly because the term is not applicable to science. You can plagiarize another’s writings by calling them your own. Published science and tech isn’t like that – or should not be. Science since the Enlightenment started depends on free distribution of knowledge, and constant “copying” and improving the copies is the entire point! Science is not. a. business. It’s the opposite of business. What we are witnessing here is a cult eating our culture and future whole – the cult of profit-only corporations that cannot be touched and cannot die, only make more money and accumulate more knowledge and power. The 20th century witnessed the end of the Enlightenment and the commencement of the Darkening. The consequence are horrifying, especially since they are obvious but unquantifiable – what ISN’T being developed or discovered, and what is that costing us? We can’t see what never can be. We are losing precious time. The cult must be killed off, and that is going to take generations – if we can do it at all. The Darkening could be permanent. Corporations can’t die. They only strengthen and change, but never give up power.

    1. Copying is not plagiarism.  You can’t stop somebody from copying but you can stop them from publishing your work as their own, which is plagiarism.

  4. The UW provost wasn’t the provost when the policy change was made, but she was a dean, and now that she is the provost, she doesn’t have to be played for a fool by administrators who now work for her.  She has nothing to gain by standing behind a poorly conceived, poorly drafted, poorly executed power grab by a rogue “commercialization” office that is spending like no tomorrow without results to show for it.  

    Folks really need to get over the thought that by taking all property of faculty and students, a university, of all creatures, will make a ton of money.  It just isn’t happening.  What is happening is a few deals a decade per major university, and those deals in the past largely happened because faculty chose to do the deals through the university.  And what is happening is that people with good ideas, knowing that the university will bungle them if it “owns” them and will try to ruin their careers with “ethics” charges if they develop the ideas privately, either leave the university or just stop spending any time with the ideas.   There’s a creative, innovative work environment for you.

  5. According to the U of W “Patent, Invention, and Copyright Policy” here: http://www.washington.edu/admin/rules/policies/PO/EO36.html it claims all rights not only to faculty creations, but also of anything that any students create while using university facilities. 

    “Students who are also employees, students working on a sponsored project, and students who have used University resources (other than for lecture-based coursework) shall also report all inventions and discoveries to the University’s Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer and shall assign all such inventions and discoveries in the same manner as University employees.”

    From reading this is sounds like if you develop the next Facebook or Minecraft while staying in UofW dorms, they’ll own it.

    Absolute madness. Can something this broad even be enforceable?

    1.  And to repay you for this blatant grab of your hard work and innovation, you get to pay higher tuition!

  6. There: sent the good provost a polite email, letting her know her university’s policy is encouraging the end of civilization. This everything-should-have-a-price-tag view so prevalent in the zeitgeist is SO narrow and ignoring of evidence obvious all around us. 

  7. Dear Provost,

    Regarding the Intellectual Property Policy in place by the University of Washington.

    In my humble opinion, the University of Washington and others following such IP policies should drop the “University” qualification and go incorporate as for-profit, private research institutions or colleges (rather as a diploma farm).

    The whole and only point of having an university, of having professors, lecturers, research assistants, postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students (who are frequently underpaid or unpaid) is precisely to enable them to follow their inclinations: To learn, to advance the state of human knowledge, to produce and share knowledge.

    You are higher up on the hierarchy because you have produced and shared more, of a better quality or relevancy. That is decided by your peers around the world.

    I will never say that education of students is accessory to that mission. On the contrary it is fundamental. Only that it will be horribly hobbled by policies that discourage (or should I say rob if they dare innovate) the best students and all of the researchers of their right to share, as well as the public the university is supposed to serve.


  8. Washington State Ethics in Public Service Act RCW 42.52.160
    “(1) No state officer or state employee may employ or use any person, money, or property under the officer’s or employee’s official control or direction, or in his or her official custody, for the private benefit or gain of the officer, employee, or another.”
    So, does this include university employees contributing design expertise to third parties? If it does, then Open3DP’s SOL. Maybe they should contribute to this forum in a private capacity.

    1. Please see RCW 42.52.220 allowing that “each university may develop, adopt, and implement one or more written administrative processes that shall, upon approval by the governor, apply in place of the obligations imposed on universities and university research employees under RCW 42.52.030, 42.52.040, 42.52.080, 42.52.110, 42.52.120, 42.52.130, 42.52.140, 42.52.150, and 42.52.160.”

      So if SOL is the status, it is not the direct result of state law which allows universities to be flexible on this issue.

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