Should You Patent Your 3D Print Design? (Part 1): Why You Should

I was watching this YouTube video and now I am going to write a two part post about whether or not a unique 3D print design should be patented. The second part will be about why not to patent and obviously as the admin of an open source community my bias is toward that side. This first post is playing Devil's advocate and arguing why someone would want to patent.

I would agree that the connector and hole design may be patentable. It would at least be worth doing a patent search for prior art.

It looks like what 3D Printing Professor made might be eligible for a design patent. Unlike the 20 year term of a utility patent under U.S. law a design patent is generally good for 14 years before the patent expires.

So, why would someone want to get a design patent for such a 3D print? First, if you've created something on your 3D printer that you think could be worth patenting talk to a patent lawyer and don't rely on some fool posting on the Hive blockchain.

Let's look at 3D Printing Professor's two main arguments why he doesn't plan to patent his design.

First, the patent process is expensive. Yes, it is. That's not insurmountable though. If it's really a great idea and you have a prototype proving proof of concept there will always be investors and venture capitalists. Non-disclosure agreements exist for a reason.

You'll be giving up a certain percentage of any future profits to get investors but there's no need to be greedy. You could always use whatever you get to self-finance your next big idea without needing investors next time.

3D Printing Professor's next main argument is that it's not worth patenting because it's impractical to steal his idea. He claims he designed his connector and hole design so that it could only be made using certain 3D printing processes. A few commenters on his video have already questioned why it couldn't be made using injection molding or other alternative process. I can't say I blame them for questioning his claim. To me it sounds like, "Nobody can hack the software I just created." How often does that turn out to be true?

Let's accept the claim from 3D Printing Professor as gospel truth. There is absolutely no other process than high quality 3D printing to make his blocks. Each block and connector would cost around $1 USD to make so it would be an insanely expensive toy to sell if someone stole his idea and made those blocks. Let's even grant 3D Printing Professor the premise that during the 14 year term of a design patent for his connector and hole design the cost of filament doesn't decrease and no new technology would be invented to make his blocks cheaper.

The blocks are a red herring. The question is about patenting the design for the connector and hole and in the video 3D Printing Professor argues that he thinks he could probably patent that design.

Since it's the connector and hole design at issue maybe somebody doesn't want to steal the idea to make blocks. Maybe somebody has a use where a few extra dollars in manufacturing isn't a big deal.

Let's say hypothetically I own a company that makes assistive technology for the disabled. My clients are disabled people but most often it is organizations and government funding paying the bills when I sell products. If I use that connector and hole design in a product I could have several thousand parts made by a 3D printing service and not pay any royalties to 3D Printing Professor for his design.

Then I'd no longer be a fool posting on the Hive blockchain. I'd be the guy racing to the patent office before the 3D Printing Professor knew what was happening.