Open Source and Intellectual Property at Slice Engineering
At Slice Engineering we have never been shy about our stance on Intellectual Property (IP) and Free & Open Source Hardware (FOSH). Our first prototypes for the Mosquito® Hotend had the words “Patent Pending” laser marked on the front face*, while other products, like the Copperhead™ hotend, are fully open source. Some have asked us why we would pursue patents if we participate in a market segment that has benefited from open source technology. For us it comes down to two reasons, we care deeply about people, and we are passionate about innovation. Read on to see what we mean.
We care deeply about people
Traditional companies think of their shareholders as the only stakeholders, but we take a different view. We consider our customers, team members, suppliers, community and environment to all be stakeholders as well. Serving all of those stakeholders requires a firm foundation to guarantee customers receive the best possible support (did you know that at Slice degreed engineers provide the technical support?), team members are adequately provided for (we’re hiring!), our suppliers and community benefit from our presence, and environmental impacts are minimized.
Part of building that foundation is ensuring that our products serve the whole additive manufacturing (AM) market, from makers to global manufacturers, and from National Labs to the US Armed Forces. We’ve found that the best way for us to do this effectively is through a Hybrid IP Model (more on that below).
We are passionate about innovation
Our mission every day is to transform ideas into realities. Staying focused on that mission allows us to continue pushing the boundaries of what is possible with 3D printing, and it also means that we spend a lot of time doing R&D (which we love!). There are a lot of players, large and small, in the AM market that would prefer not to spend time doing research, but instead just exploit the creative ideas of others. The same holds true in other parts of the 3D printing community, such as content creators on YouTube or digital artists on DeviantArt.
Having IP of various kinds (did you know that FOSH companies use IP too?) allows for a couple guys tinkering in a garage - like we were just a few short years ago - to have a fighting chance at defending themselves from strong industry players or bad actors who would love to swoop in and exploit the little guy as a free R&D group†. No creator should have their creativity harvested by the machine.
The hybrid model
The Maker Community is best served by open source products, while the industrial market is more interested in IP protected products. To that end, Slice Engineering develops and markets proprietary technologies as well as technologies shared publicly per the Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license. We call this a Hybrid IP Model. Our website (see our list of granted patents here) and product labels clearly state which products contain patented technologies, which patents apply to each patented product, and which trademarks are registered. All of our core products are accompanied by freely available 3D files and reference drawings. This means that the product can be used however you, the user, see fit, including remixed, adapted or improved upon; as long as the resulting products aren't sold for profit and the tenets of the CC-BY-SA 4.0 license are upheld.
We respect the intellectual property rights of others and expect our competitors to do the same. We are also always open to collaborative development and licensing opportunities.
Unfortunately, not everyone holds the same values. We observe infringing companies tend to snub intellectual property rights generally, including Creative Commons provisions such as attribution (BY) and share alike (SA), not only patents, trademarks and copyrights. They do so in as many ways and for as long as they can get away with it. Such actions are not a mark of integrity (see our Core Values here) and we encourage everyone to do their due diligence on any company or product before making a purchasing decision.
3D Printing is here to stay, and the landscape is only going to continue to become more and more competitive. We believe the companies that will thrive in this competitive environment will be committed to ethical treatment of their stakeholders and to pushing the boundaries of technology. At Slice Engineering we are committed to that path. We hope you will join us as well.
*United States Patent Law 35 U.S.C. § 287 requires that patents or pending patents be displayed prominently on the article in question†When Does Defensive Patenting Make Sense ip.com