There are a couple of articles out now looking at IP in 3d printing. For the UK, see this article by Simon Bradshaw, Adrian Bowyer, and Patrick Haufe, and for the US, this white paper by Michael Weinberg. These articles are a good start.
One thing I noticed in these articles is an implicit assumption that IP is or will be a problem for 3D printer users, as if IP is generally a bad thing. I’m not persuaded that is the best way to come at this stuff, though it is always worth being prepared.
IP is also a cultural innovation. In its various forms–patent, copyright, and trademark, especially–IP establishes some ground rules for competitive interactions between organizations–to exclude, to include, to trade, to make clear one’s contributions, and to develop standards. The bit about excluding can be taken too far. A lot of other things also go on, and one of the best ways not to be excluded is to have some good IP of one’s own and work a deal, such as cross-license, which shifts the basis on which competition might take place–if not IP, then perhaps brand, price, efficiency, quality of goods, availability, features, and effective deals in value chains.
Cross-licensing also is one way of creating a commons. There are other ways. Open source licensing is copyright-based and also creates a commons. Standards also may create a commons, and IP figures as a way to get a seat at the table as much as anything else. In some ways, IP can define where the table is.
What we need now are some creative ways of looking at the development of standards, of markets, of cross-licensing, and extensions of open strategies that create opportunities for everyone, including companies. For this, we need to look at IP in the development of 3d printers, composition of materials, post-printing processing, and management of control files and metadata. And we need to look to IP as a source for developing opportunities, attracting investment, building collaborations, and creating critical mass in new markets.