3D Printing and Licensed Products: Litigation or Cooperation?

3D printing has proven a boon to the health care industry. Artificial joints, bones and organs have been or are on the verge of being created. I think we can pretty much all agree that this is a positive step forward for mankind.   

On the other end of the spectrum, while no less revolutionary, are 3D-generated products that aren’t so much designed to save lives, but perhaps make life a little more enjoyable for some. Here, I’m specifically talking about figurines, action figures, sports memorabilia and other collectibles. Allow me to elaborate. 

As the prices for 3D printers come down, they will become available to more people. What about the person who has both a 3D printer and a passion for collecting Star Wars figures? Instead of spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars at Toys ‘R Us, fan events and the internet, he now has the ability to produce them from the comfort of his home, and, theoretically, the ability to sell these items. Sounds great, right? Well, that might not sit too well with the Disney Corporation, which owns the Star Wars franchise. It stands to lose part of its $40 billion annual licensing revenue. So, does Disney go after each and every individual who is making, and perhaps selling, their own Disney-licensed products? 

The law on this is evolving. A company certainly has the right to protect its property. But thousands of lawsuits and cease-and-desist letters would be extremely expensive and time consuming. One company found another way.     

Hasbro is partnering with 3D printer Shapeways to allow select fans of the popular Transformers and My Little Ponies figures to design and upload art and then 3D print the characters. Fans can then sell the figures on the joint Hasbro/Shapeways website SuperFanArt. 

This Hasbro model could be a new distribution platform for other licensed product manufacturers to help breathe new life in products. So what will it be: litigation or cooperation?  

3D Printer Units Market Share
U.S 38%
Japan 9.7&
Germany 9.4%
China 8,7%
Korea 2,3%
Others 31,8%

Source: Wohlers Associates

Marc Fogarty, Audit Partner and a member of EisnerAmper's Public Companies, Cleantech and International Services Groups. Marc is experienced in public accounting, serving public and private organizations and has presented on IFRS to professional groups.

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