Myhrvold patents 3D printing DRM

Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures has received a patent for a DRM system for 3D printers, to stop people from printing out trademarked and patent objects. Like other DRM systems, this won't work (it will either have to be so broad in its parameters for recognizing prohibited items that it will balk at printing innumerable harmless objects, or it will be trivial to defeat by disguising the objects beyond the system's ability to recognize them).

Like other DRMs, it will require designing 3D printers so that they keep secrets from their owners, opening up the possibility that this facility will be exploited by bad guys to do bad things to the printers' owners (Charlie Stross envisions compromised 3D printers outputting rooms full of printed penises overnight in his book Rule 34).

But at least it's patented by a notorious patent troll, which means that other jackasses who try to implement this stupid idea will find themselves tied up in absurd, wasteful lawsuits. It's mutually assured dipshits.

From Tech Review's Antonio Regalado:

“You load a file into your printer, then your printer checks to make sure it has the rights to make the object, to make it out of what material, how many times, and so on,” says Michael Weinberg, a staff lawyer at the non-profit Public Knowledge, who reviewed the patent at the request of Technology Review. “It’s a very broad patent.”

The patent isn’t limited to 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. It also covers using digital files in extrusion, ejection, stamping, die casting, printing, painting, and tattooing and with materials that include “skin, textiles, edible substances, paper, and silicon printing.”

Nathan Myhrvold's Cunning Plan to Prevent 3-D Printer Piracy


  1. Pathetic. I and others have brought up this idea. It’s the next obvious step for a coercsive govt and private sector who doesn’t want us to print anything. It’s obvious you’re going to check a database or have stupid annotations in there.

    Well at least it is patented so hopefully intellectual ventures sues the crap out of any freedom hating idiots who deploy this technology.

    The point is that this patent is painfully obvious and I have talked about it before, and so have others, but somehow these guys own it because they paid a lawyer. Wish I had those resources.

    1. There’s a few that are open source and commercial. Bukobot, Ultimaker, MendelMax and the new Prusa i3

    2. There are a dozen or more 3D printers whose plans are freely available. All you need to do is purchase the parts from the source of your choice and build it. It’s not rocket science.

      1.  can anyone simply say where to get a simple 3D printer Open source which is reasonably reliable and cost effective. i can shell off $400-600 for that. Thanks

        1. I just bought a kit for $550 from and am about 30 hours into the build, with maybe 10 hours left before it is functional.
          I was also looking at which seem to be easier to build.

          (May be a double post.  Disqus sucks.)

  2. How is it possible to patent something that is almost certainly not possible to implement in a reliable way? I have a second point to make: Not the goal of an invention should be patentable (the “what to achieve”), but the “how to get there”.

    1. Hell, you can patent perpetual-motion machines, and many people do. The patent office doesn’t check that your device actually can *work*.

    2. Well, eventually someone will improve on the obvious non-working “solution” and the trolls will claim it was based on their previous “solution”

  3. The easiest workaround is probably to add a gratuitous sprue, or to make an existing sprue more ornate.

    1. He’s been one of “them” — if by that you mean patent troll — for a long, long time, though you wouldn’t really have learned that through Boing Boing.

  4. What I want to know is how the, er, fine… folks at Intellectual Ventures managed to  receive  this patent…

    Assorted computer DRM systems and the ‘conditional access’ systems used in satellite and cable pay-TV have been built on essentially identical principles for well over a decade, just with ‘output video’ in place of ‘print object’. 

    Mark Stefik at Xerox PARC had already cooked up a ‘Digital Property Rights Language’ sometime in the early to mid ’90s. (It’s most recent incarnation goes by the name of ‘XRML’)

    How could this possibly have qualified as either ‘novel’ or ‘non-obvious’?

    1. the patent office is just full of rubber stamps and it’s now the courts’ job to figure out what is valid.

  5. I’m back at the start wondering how that diagram in any way describes a DRM system for 3d printing. 

    It just seems like a generic rendering of the basic functions of any computer built in the last 25 years (and further than that if you take away the CD drive).

    1.  i was wondering the same thing when i seen it, where is the part that says anything about 3d printers or DRM?

  6. “and tattooing”
    Finally! Disney can stop all that tattoo copyright infringement that is eating away at their profits! From now on you will have to go to licensed Disney Tattoo shops. I hear they have a deal on Jiminy Cricket but you will still pay out the nose for Minnie Mouse.

    1. On a more serious note, who is on top of this attaching a tattoo gun to a printer? I assume there would be some difficult hurdles such as the vagaries in skin texture and shape but dammit I would go for some millimeter-precise tattoos.
      I don’t think it would ever replace tattoo artists, but sometimes you just want an exact replica in tattoo form.

      1. i had thought of something like that, though i use an array of needles instead of one (get enough needles in a grid you could put the whole tattoo on at once like a stamp) the only issue i could see is switching colours, and keeping the needle sanitary. the former could be handled by having only 3 needles one red,one green, one blue, and then applying it in a line like a printer. a 3d scanner can map out the topography of the spot its being applied so the needle knows where to go and how far to move down.
        unfortunately im lazy and broke so anyone with money and ambition…go for it.

    2. That’s actually a really clever idea.  Tattooing is that mainstream now, and I’m sure there are plenty of nice white kids who yearn for a tatt, but are scared of the facey-piercey bald man.  Having a freshly-scrubbed Disneyite applying tattoos would have huge appeal to the under-30 Mormon crowd.

    1. Hey, everybody, let’s all tell Nathan we’re moving to Mars, then he’ll move there before us so he can be first. Mission accomplished.

  7. Perhaps we should be doing some patent trolling of our own. For example, someone should patent a 3D printing geometry grammar including all of its expansions. That is, all shapes that the grammar can generate. If the grammar is comprehensive and sufficiently vague – remember you don’t actually have to patent something that exists or can exist – it should keep people from trademarking a broad variety of shapes.

  8. Though it does make me smile that whoever decides that they want to actually implemenet DRM on 3D printing, will either have to pay licencing fees to this jerk, or get sued after the fact. Two wrongs do make a right!

  9. I thought (and think) Nathan Myhrvold’s cookbooks were awesome. Like performance art or something. Epic and impractical and beautiful and even (technically if not practically) available to the public. 
    But this? 

    Fuck you, Nate.

    All the beautiful photos of sawn-in-half woks flipping stir-fry mid-flame and all the exquisitely pedantic cheeseburgers with crazy-ass mushroom ketchup in the world can’t protect you from being a flaming patent-troll douche. 

    Also, withering scorn from nerds on the internet. Take THAT Mr. Millionaihrvold.

    1. Well, it’s the sort of thing that’s gotten him a free pass from the likes of Boing Boing — until now — so it’s a hobby with PR dividends.

  10. I don’t understand how this is supposed to work at all.

    Suppose you’re the manufacturer of 3D printers. Why are you going to pay a patent licensing fee to someone in order to have the privledge of crippling your own product?

    The makers of DVD-R drives and conventional 2D printers don’t include a feature like these, and I don’t suppose they would have any interest in adding one. Even television sets that support HDMI DRM generally include other, unprotected, input ports.

    Also, although I’m not a lawyer, I’m pretty sure talk of prohibiting the printing of “trademarked” objects comprehensively misunderstands what trademark is. One violates a trademark by engaging in trade while representing yourself in a way that might confuse consumers. It’s not a trademark violation to print up your own Coca-Cola memorabilia at home. It would be a violation to try to sell it, or to use it to promote your own soda pop.

    1. Well, suppose Disney wanted to make sure you could only print Micky if they got paid, so to print a licensed model Mickey, you needed a printer with supported DRM, or their software will not load. I’m sure this will work out for them.

      1.  this assumes they have a software that needs loaded. suppose i have a 3d copier, i take an existing mickey, i scan said mickey, then print off said mickey, there was no software that needed loaded from disney.
        same for if i made my OWN mickey and then printed off said mickey.
        the printer, in order to keep me from printing off that mickey, would need to have a database of shapes which are mickey, it would then need to match my object with its idea of what makes a mickey, which could be too broad and then a water molecule ends up being considered a mickey, or too narrow such that if the eyes are a millimetre lower or the head has less resolution than the comparison then it DOESN’T count as a mickey.
        that’s the issue you run into when you are no longer talking about software but physical objects.

    2. There’s something analogous with paper cutting plotters.  There are more expensive models that you can do whatever you want with, and there are the Cricut and other machines, where you buy designs from the manufacturer’s store.  But the machines are considerably cheaper.  I can imagine the market for plastic tchotchkes being similar.

  11. Makes me wonder if the one way to protect Internet freedom is by applying for broad patents on anything that can threaten it, and then sue if anyone actually tries to implement it…

    1.  they will just make it 10% different, or take you to court with their massive amounts more money to get it overturned.
      money is like a lever, the more of it you have the more power you exert.

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