Want a 3D printer? Just wait until next year.
In another demonstration of how intellectual property rights limit instead of aid the free market, speculators are predicting a boom in 3D printing technology in 2014. The reason? According to Quartz, “In February 2014, key patents that currently prevent competition in the market for the most advanced and functional 3D printers will expire, says Duann Scott, design evangelist at 3D printing company Shapeways.”
You read that right. The only reason 3D printers aren’t cheaper for the general market: patents.
The boom of interest in 3D printing has also led to fears about what this service can provide. “In the near future,” wrote Popular Science, as cited in International Business Times, “a terrorist might be able to print ricin.” The Global Independent calls 3D printing the “economic end game.” Finally, Live Science reports that the increased use of plastics in 3D printing is really freaking bad for the environment. Clearly, once 3D printing becomes more widely available, we are going to start printing ourselves into an apocalypse.
Or we’ll see an amazing economic boom that’s predicted to be bigger than the Internet. Frankly, I think that a major manufacturing boom is more likely than a widespread burst in terrorism.
The moment that mainstream media sources start inflating terrorist threats, hyping the end of the economy, and pitching economic upheaval, the government is quick to come in with their quick-fix regulation solution. That’s right. If you want a 3D printer, prepare for the government to bombard your home office. Democrats have already proposed limitations to printing guns, but I think that once the threat of “terrorism” enters the picture, the United States is apt to overreact. Additionally, while 3D printers provide awesome opportunities for young entrepreneurs, I fear the onslaught of patent violation enforcement to come. In other words, be wary about torrenting 3D printing plans for the latest iPad once its available.
Why haven’t we seen these restrictions yet? Because the US patent system has kept these problems at bay from the general populace. The government hasn’t had to worry about its constituency printing a working gun until very recently.
In a way, the patents that have been protecting the 3D printing industry has acted as an overarching legislation that pushes back the government’s greater concerns about the potential dangers of 3D printing. The government has little to worry about in terms of national security or the environment if people don’t have access to the product.
It puzzles me when free market advocates also support intellectual property. Intellectual property “rights” are little more than a barrier to entry to the marketplace, and it allows the government to bide time and create “appropriate” legislation.
Should you think that greater access to 3D printers will help the economy, consider why they’ve had such an insurmountable price tag for so long. Government creating regulation once a product is available is very similar to limiting the public access to a product by patent cronyism. Intellectual property is merely another overreaching hand of the government, and libertarians have no business supporting it.