Secrecy has been a powerful tool for many product companies. Apple has woven this concept deeply into their brand, and embedded it into everything they create. Clearly, stealth mode has its place in competition. But things are changing. We’re starting to see a trend of companies engaging ‘outsiders’ in the discovery of new products, and 3D printing is making this easier than ever before.
Last year, Hasbro’s My Little Pony started testing designs of new ponies with ‘Super Fans.’ General Electric launched an Open Innovation Challenge to design a jet engine bracket, and NASA launched a Student Contest for 3D-Printed Astronaut Tools. Last week, Pinshape (our online community marketplace for 3D printable files) landed our biggest brand partnership yet with ELLE Time & Jewelry, a large jewelry and timepiece distributor and ELLE Magazine affiliate, to launch a jewelry design contest.
ELLE Jewelry is a perfect example of how major brands are outsourcing product generation. Not only are they using Pinshape to source new design ideas and attract new talent for their jewelry company, winning designs have the potential to be mass manufactured by ELLE and marketed through traditional channels. This type of crowdsourcing is a powerful and incredibly valuable tool for companies that design and build innovative products.
The barrier for most companies is legal risk and fear of releasing hard-earned brand equity into the public domain. The reality is that the 3D world is going to scan & digitize every single physical asset we have…whether we like it or not. The question is whether companies will choose to participate in communities of designers and creators, or maintain corporate control and secrecy. At this point, it’s only a matter of time before 3D designers begin to significantly influence consumer product innovation outside company walls.
That’s why working to help companies mitigate these risks (and fears!). We help with the assignment of intellectual property (IP) from the winning designers to the contest sponsors, and do everything we can to maximize the benefits for winners. In the case of ELLE, contest winners receive $1,500 worth of ELLE jewelry, and a $3,000 Titan 1 3D printer from Kudo3D. For General Electric’s contest, they put forward $20,000 in prize money.
One thing is certain. We’re going to see significant changes going on in the world of design IP protection in years ahead. How companies choose to deal with influx of 3D designers, and potential infringement of their IP will be interesting. With scanning technology rapidly advancing, it’s going to get even more complicated. We see legitimate opportunity and benefit to proactively engaging 3D designers in product creation within a controlled and collaborative environment like Pinshape. As Nelson Mandela put it: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
Lucas Matheson is the CEO and co-founder of Pinshape – a next generation 3D printing community marketplace focused on making 3D printing easy, accessible and fun by enabling talented designers to sell and share their 3D designs and helping makers to download and effortlessly print designs.