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3D printing might be one of the most potentially life-changing technological advances of the last decade. Despite the lowered enthusiasm for 3D printing in the last few years, the benefits of this technology have been seen in many industries, and it has become an essential tool for small scale businesses. Desai and Magliocca covered the potential disruption of the copyright system by 3D printers in their article “3D Printers as the Next Intellectual Property Game Changer” (2013). This paper will evaluate the article and see how it connects to microeconomics.
Connection to Microeconomic Theory
One of the main points of the article is that 3D printing allows small businesses and private companies to manufacture parts and products that are virtually identical to those of large companies that would previously hold a monopoly on them (Magliocca & Desai, 2013). This fact brings up the theory of pure competition. According to the theory, in a pure competition, a large number of companies are manufacturing a homogenous product. The market in a pure competition is easy to enter and easy to exit. No one company has a power advantage, and every company has a full awareness of prices.
In theory, 3D printing can facilitate pure competitions in markets that were previously dominated by large conglomerates. One of the simplest examples could be toy manufacturing. Toy companies rarely produce replacement parts for their toys, and when they do like in the case of scale model kits, the parts are very limited and are often overpriced. With the current quality of 3D printers, anyone skilled enough to operate the modeling software can create replacement parts or whole toys that are near-identical to the original. This advancement works directly against monopolies that hold unique rights to manufacture certain machine parts, and other similar products (Kirzner, 2015).
Pros and Cons
The pros and cons of the topic are relatively clear, and in part depend on the personal opinion of the current copyright system. The pros lie in the increased ease of entry into the market, as well as easier exit, reduced costs of manufacturing, increased the speed of prototyping, a lower barrier to entry for new employees, and the leveling of the playing field between large corporations and small businesses. Even in the short four years since the article was written, the number of practical uses of 3D printing became substantial enough to consider it an essential business tool. Beside basic manufacturing and prototyping, it is used in pharmaceutical production, building industry, and soon might be used for the creation of living tissue for organ transplantation (Bhushan & Caspers, 2017).
One of the questionable aspects of 3D printing is the danger of loss of intellectual property. As the article points out, this invention requires a massive change in the copyright system to realize its full potential. On the one hand, the current copyright system is very flawed and is often abused by large companies and malicious individuals. If it is given priority, 3D printers will lose a lot of their competitive potential. However, if the system does not have any control over this technology, there would be no protection of the intellectual property in both the large and small companies. Another con might lie in individuals using 3D printers for the malicious activity like gun manufacturing. However, this type of printing often requires more effort and resources than a legal or illegal purchase of a firearm.
The article opens with general information on the capability of this technology at the time. The authors compare the quick advancement and loss in the price of 3D printers with the rise of the personal computers. The focus quickly shifts to the possible issues with intellectual property groups that might arise due to the abilities of this technology. The authors suggest that some form of legal protection is required for 3D printing to thrive. They describe the potential benefits of this technology, and its focus on customization. The main example of this is the shift in the market when machines allowed brewing espresso at home. The authors point out that the current copyright doctrine is based on the difficulty of replication of property. This difficulty is lowered through the use of 3D printers. The article ends with a hope that the Congress will provide protection to this technology and websites that host the models (Magliocca & Desai, 2013).
I have followed the development of the 3D printing technology since the creation of the first MakerBot 3D printer “Cupcake CNC” in 2009. This technology and its potential fascinated me, and I still see it as a major breakthrough in manufacturing. This article provides a slightly general approach to the topic without touching upon many of the particulars that have already been addressed by 2013. Although the current technology can create virtually identical replications or parts, this was not the case in 2013.
There were some hard limitations related to the resolution of the printer and the structure of supports required for the models that prevented certain types of parts from being manufactured. The pace of price loss was also exaggerated as even today, 3D printers often cost more than a $1,000. However, these issues could be addressed, and they did not hurt the main point of the article.
3D printing is an essential business tool. It could facilitate pure competition while preventing monopoly. Its abilities can have a disrupting effect on the copyright system, which makes the authors argue in its defense. It is a fascinating technology that could improve many lives in the future.
Bhushan, B., & Caspers, M. (2017). An overview of additive manufacturing (3D printing) for microfabrication. Microsystem Technologies, 23(4), 1117-1124.
Kirzner, I. (2015). Competition and entrepreneurship. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Magliocca, D., & Desai, D. (2013, October 21). 3D printers as the next intellectual property game changer. Yahoo.com.