An Interview with 3D Industries on the Future of 3D Search and IP

Law in the Making had the chance recently to interview Seena Rajal, CEO and founder of London-based 3D search start-up 3D Industries  (3DI).  3DI’s search engine offers the ability to “search for components, supplies, designs, industrial parts… using shape and geometry alone.” One partnership 3DI has already announced is a collaboration with 3DLT, a 3D design marketplace, which “will implement key elements of 3DI’s technology to further validate the intellectual property ownership of files it receives from designers.” So naturally, I wanted to know more about what 3DI’s technology might mean for intellectual property claims and rights.

We are very grateful to Seena and 3DI for taking the time to respond and offering amazing insight into their view of the potential of 3D search. Here are Seena’s unedited answers to my questions:

3DI: First up, we are not proposing creation of IP filters, per se, or of policing the environment. We are proponents of an open-sharing environment and believe this can only happen on a transparent and professionalised 3D web in which there is due authentication of origination, and citation of authorship. It gives users confidence and assurance as to quality, while giving due credit to artists and designers. 3DI develops the tools to enable that infrastructure for the 3D printing community.

LawITM: How might 3D search combat IP infringement? Do you imagine a content ID system similar to that employed by YouTube ever being feasible with physical objects and intellectual property?

3DI: The parallels with between what is happening with 3D data and the 3D printing industry, and what took place in recent history with digital music and film data and the respective music and film industries, are quite clear. A period of reckoning lies ahead in which there will be a tussle for laying of standards and industry norms that are acceptable to as many as possible. Out of that process – driven by artists, business leaders, lawyers and technologists – will be born the eventual form of the industry. And nothing is outside of the realms of imagination at this point; there is already talk by some players for content ID tagging linking 3D data to 3D machines, for example.

The way we see 3D search working initially in this area is in a fashion not too dissimilar to an automated equivalent of running textual content through Google to check for plagiarism of the written word. 3D search returns results that are both exact matches, and similar in form, to any uploaded 3D model. The level of match will signal the probability of infringement. By the same token, it will flag the probability of citation to a particular designer.

So the way it would work is this:

  • An open 3D database that takes in designs from users (professional 3D designers or otherwise), would integrate 3D search on the admin side.
  • Every time a design is uploaded – either by users, or an admin curator – that design is compared via 3D search to 3DIs growing global database of parts from across the web and open and closed databases from partners, clients and otherwise reachable / accessible.
  • The 3D database would receive a report on the ‘uniqueness’ of the upload and level of match to any similar models known across the 3D web. There will be an assessment of the level of probability of it being a copy and details of who / what it is most likely cited to.
  • The admin can then make a call and / or investigate further on a case by case basis. A list of priority cases that require admin attention will be highlighted.
  • Eventually, artists can sign up to the 3DI directory directly, making sure their designs are up-to-date in our databases. We can then notify them personally whenever something similar to their work is uploaded across any open database or where there is citation. This is for their information.
  • A similar system can be used to detect unwanted content for generally illegal or inappropriate content.

LawITM: What are the immediate legal challenges facing 3D search tools? Do you anticipate any legal issues relating to image or data caching?

3DI: User search queries are not shared publicly and the platform is secure. As such, that content is not compromised and legal issues are mitigated. The process involves expunging search queries after search to further enhance this.
The content provided by databases and designers to be searched is, by definition, available for open mining. Again, legal issues are thus mitigated here.
Where a database is proprietary, results will not be explicitly shared with our IP services, though references to content in a particular database will be made.  

Note that with our 3D printing platform, users will generally be using basic shapes and similar shapes to hone  in on the actual designs they are looking for. As such, they will probably not be uploading precise and proprietary models in the first instance.

LawITM: How do you see 3D search integrating with professional IP searches? Do you imagine end-users or rightsholders (or both) will be primary users of 3D search tools?

3DI: Both. Same way you search by keyword for patents, you would 3D search for 3D IP.
I think end-users and rightsholders can both use them, and there can be immediate flagging for both parties.

LawITM: With respect to a service like 3DLT, what do you say to those who argue all aspects of 3D printing should be ‘open’ and designs should always be freely available?

3DI: 3DLT does not say otherwise. It’s attempting to professionalise what has generally grown from an amateur movement. These are not necessarily antitheses of each other. There is demand for high quality designs that only paid top quality designers are willing to spend time and effort on, and this is the marketplace 3DLT is offering. From my understanding, it was the requirement of these designers to have control over their work that led 3DLT to look at solutions to help provide that transparency.

If anything, the infrastructure being put in place here is bringing transparency to the arena and will create the right incentives to accelerate engagement with the open environment. Authentication of origin and citation of authorship are key to enabling this. We are at a watershed moment in this fledgling 3D printing web at which the transition from amateur to professional requires this evolutionary step.

As with most technologies, there is theoretically room for the tool to be used to either enable or stifle open-ness. This is something that will be fought out on the strategic management, legal and cultural fronts, as much as the technical one.


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