In the field of three-dimensional printing, we come across many developments and inventions regularly. While we see the end product on our laptop screens via some articles or research paper publications, there is a journey that an idea or an invention has to go through. Anyone belonging in the field would be honoured to share his or her original idea that can be of benefit to the entire industry.
While we completely encourage that enthusiasm, it is important to study the journey of an idea first. It is important to take proper precautions and care to ensure that your idea is protected and published in a proper manner. In this article, we would be studying this journey from inception to its publication. So, keep reading!
First of all, we are going to be talking about Intellectual Property protection and how you can put it to use. Intellectual Property basically refers to any creation of the mind ranging from a name, symbol or any artistic work to inventions and designs. Intellectual Property, or as it commonly abbreviated to – IP, mainly is used for protection of intangible property of a person.
IP is broadly divided into two categories:-
- Industrial Property: This category includes patents for inventions and ideas, trademarks, designing material, and geographic indication of the sources.
- Copyright: It basically deals with creative and artistic works like drawings, novels, photographers and likewise.
For the engineers, the Industrial Property category of IP is important and required. If you have filed an application to identify your work or your idea as an Intellectual Property, you can rightfully sure anyone who violates or infringes the Intellectual Property Rights. There are four major ways of creating an Intellectual Property:-
- You can file a patent for your idea or invention.
- You can file a copyright for a document or any type of content relevant to your idea.
- You can file a trademark for a logo or a name. They are important for the value of a brand.
For our article, we need to go into further study of patents. So, we will now proceed into our next section where we will discuss how we can actually file the patents and dive deeper into more topics around patents.
Whenever an individual works on an idea that has a practical use, he or she can file for a patent that will give that individual exclusive right to that idea. This means that nobody else can use that idea for making another product or in any other way. Only the rightful individual can decide on what and how to proceed to with that idea or invention.
This is a patented(U.S. Patent No. 5,839,263) image of a lawnmower blade including replacement knives.
There are government officials who handle the assigning of patents. A patent comes with a time validity period under which the individual shall take the next steps and develop an actual tangible representation of the idea.
We need to focus on filing patents on either mechanical design, CAD models or an actual prototype. You can take an actual look on the Google Patents website and you’ll see numerous CAD models have already been patented.
In India, we have six categories in which patents are broadly categorised to:-
- Ordinary Application
- Convention Application
- PCT International Application
- PCT National Phase Application
- Patent of Addition
- Divisional Application
Please go through the link to learn more about each type of application in detail. It is very important to note that there is a certain specification or format to follow while preparing a patent report. It is expected from a person to strictly follow that format in his on her application.
Patent filing is a complex task in itself but because of the nature of the industry, it is a necessity to ensure a smooth development process. You can find several companies online that will take a fee and work exclusively for you ensuring the right kind of patents are filed and successful results are achieved. You should also go through this link to stay updated with the kind of patents that are being filed in 3D Printing industry.
Open Source Patents
We should also cover the concept of Open Source Patents which seems to draw more and more companies in these times. An open source patent may grant certain patent licences to anyone who receives or uses the project. The patent owner does not have any control over whose these users might be.
While these are more in use in the software industry, it can also be used to allow access of CAD files to users which can enable them to use and develop the files even further. This may be in a manner that is separate from yours.
There are going to be certain events throughout the development of your idea or invention where you will need to share your idea or talk about your idea with another person or a vendor outside of your team. It is always suggested to make proper use of a Non-Disclosure Agreement.
The NDA is a traditional document that has been used for a long time and is accepted in the industry. It is basically a document that states the third person’s responsibilities to ensure that whatever information is shared during the conversation or the entire procedure, must be kept confidential.
During this procedure, it is also important to note that all your drawings and sketches should be marked confidential/restricted and a small statement specifying their confidential nature must be printed or stamped on each document of drawing. You can take a look at this link to get an idea of how a real-world NDA document looks like.
How to Ensure that NDA is Fair:
- Timing: The vendor or the third person would never want to sign a document without having any idea what the project is about. So, it is important for you to give them a broad idea about a project first and get them to sign the NDA document before going into the important details.
- Length of Confidentiality: The NDA should specify the term for which the signing party is supposed to keep the information confidential. In the fast-paced advancements, it would be only fair if the party is not tied down to the document forever. Please note that while certain information may have a length of confidentiality, trade secrets must never be disclosed.
- Consequences of Breach: The NDA should clearly mention consequences if either your side or the other side breaches the terms of the NDA. These consequences can be ranging from monetary damage, stop-work injunction or a full-fledged lawsuit. Whatever these are, must be clearly listed to ensure no confusion at a later stage.
It is very important to maintain a well-detailed development log of your entire product and prototype development phase. In case of any mishaps later, this development log can act as proof of your diligence and persistence towards your project.
- A very important point in support of development logs is that if two people or two parties file for a patent of similar nature, and within a short time span of each other, the officials focus on the development log of both of the parties to check the best records of project development. The officials also use the development log as a tool to get the idea of which party has the earliest date of conception of that idea. This is a major factor in helping them decide who is granted the patent in their name.
- It is important to purchase a proper journal to keep the developments logs. First of all, ensure that there are no loose pages and they are sewn in with high quality and standards. Next up, it is also suggested that you buy journals that have digitally marked page numbers. All of this adds robustness and authenticity to your development log. Talk to your nearest stationery and ask them for the perfect options.
- There will be certain entries in your development log that will require witnesses. Please ensure a proper statement such as “Witnessed and Understood” alongside proper signature and date. Also, ensure that all your witnesses are credible.
While the cases revolving around patents in other fields are complex already, the field of 3D Printing adds another level of complexity. Dealing with CAD files which can be easily downloaded from websites online, this has led to several cases where there seemed to clear infringement but proving that infringement was the tougher part.
We can think of it in a certain way: If a patented CAD file is uploaded on the web, that can lead to a huge number of downloads and potential loss of the humongous amount of money. A patentee, in this case, must file an infringement case on the person who uploaded that file on the web. It is necessary to note that with the technologies offered over the internet, it is easier to covertly get through this process without being identified.
We will take an example of Ltd P’Ship v. Microsoft Corp. (2010), Limelight Networks v. Akamai Techs (2014) and Epcon Gas Sys., Inc. v Bauer Compressors, Inc. (2002). The judgement of all these cases lead us to a few points:
- It is necessary to prove a direct infringement scenario in order to prove contributory infringement. As we have discussed above, proving direct infringement involves direct or circumstantial evidence against the accused of having direct access to the CAD file.
- If there is a failure in proving direct infringement, any claim of inducement of infringement will also fail.
- The fact that a patentee can prove direct infringement with the help of circumstantial evidence comes to his/her’s rescue.
This gives us a view of how things and events can be manipulated in the real world. It is important to ensure the surveillance and monitoring of each and every file involved in a project. Without patents and proper documents, these issues are impossible to be tackled with and can leave the actual team empty handed even after all the efforts they have put in.
In this article, we have gone over several aspects of how you can protect your invention or your prototype. As we have said already, it is a really long journey of an idea to become into a prototype and further into an actual usable product. There can be a lot of problems in that journey and the various protection methods that we have covered in this can ensure a smoother journey as well as safety in case, someone does try to infringe any of your documents or data.