Trade Secrets – 3D Printers can actually help PREVENT counterfeiting!

A story at Entrepreneur details how low-cost 3D printers are helping small businesses prototype their new products and become more competitive.

But what’s really cool is this section which runs contrary to the popular view that 3D printers are nothing but intellectual property trouble. The article explains how 3D printing is actually allowing one company, mobile accessory maker Olloclip, avoid counterfeit versions of their products being produced:

Huntington Beach, Calif.-based company olloclip has used 3-D printing to make a big name for itself with its little iPhone accessory. The snap-on camera lens has garnered rave reviews and is one of the few peripherals stocked in every Apple Store (not to mention Best Buy and Target). “I can’t imagine doing this without owning our own 3-D printer,” says CEO Patrick O’Neill.

Olloclip has invested $50,000 in 3-D printing, not only to prototype its own products, but also to create mock-ups of rumored iPhones so that lenses can be designed quickly each time Apple releases a new version. “We can literally sketch an idea in the morning, model it in the afternoon, pop it in the printer and have a sample made that evening,” says olloclip design director Chong Pak. Fast turnaround is key for companies in this space; olloclip finished and validated an iPhone 5 version of its product within days of the handset’s announcement.

But olloclip’s biggest challenge is in fending off counterfeiters in China. Poorly made fake olloclips flood Asian markets. Thanks to 3-D printing, olloclip can keep its computer-aided design files in-house and safe, rather than having samples produced through rapid prototyping service bureaus, which have been known to leak blueprints. “You hope that the people you send the files to are ethical, but you just don’t know,” O’Neill says. “If you keep it in-house, you don’t have to worry about that.”

There may always be people who steal your product, but it’s much worse if people can get the knock-off before they can buy the legit version. Look at the music industry – the worst thing that can happen is having your record leak online before it even goes up for sale on iTunes and Amazon. While 3D printers certainly could make it harder to enforce trademarks, they could also make it easier to preserve trade secrets.

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