The future relationship of IP and Industrial Design

Image: Colador 2 by Josep Altarriba
Fellow designer blogger csven has written a great article on his observations on the state of Intellectual property and its future impact on Design and of cause Industrial Design as well.
Here is an excerpt:

At some point, p2p networks won’t have just mp3 files, they’ll have CAD files. When they do, the first thing that will happen is factories in distant corners of the manufacturing world will start churning out bootleg product at a pace that will make current infringement look like pre-Napster music “sharing”. After that people will start using locally-based fabbing services to rapid manufacture parts the way people used to photocopy stuff at the local copy shop. Eventually, home-based 3D printers (or, possibly in the more distant future, nano-factories) will allow people to fab something as easily as they currently print their digital photos.
That’s the future. It’s all up for grabs. Creatives can either try to fight it or they can figure out new business models.

This is a multi-fold discussions with many considerations.

The Intellectual Property Protection Myth

Personally for me I have long given up on this IP nonsense. If your entire business plan is backed by an IP you got a problem. It takes only about a 10% modification of a design to over come an IP protection. Put it this way if you really wanted to take the effort to copy something its not really that difficult.
The reality is an IP only has specific coverage, and if your technology has value and multiple applications then by all means protect it and sell it. IP is a sink hole of funds, but if you can farm it out for royalties then go for it!

The real rules of the Game

The reality of things are a successful content (music, product, object etc.) is more than IP. It is a well oiled engine of branding, design language, technology, manufacturing, and marketing. All added together makes it a hard act to follow.
Just look at Apple? Their products not only push the edge of design minimalism, but their part construction is flawless and extremely difficult to replicate without specific technology. Furthermore any vendor that steps out of line with Apple will never survive due to their brand equity walking out of the door.
At the end of the day, my view is copy all you want, but you ain’t getting into the infrastructure I have created.

The IP point of it All?

On the other end, I find the extent by which IP is often enforced is just plain ridiculous! As csven laments it has just went overboard and stink of corruption and dirty politics.
While copying in any form is always bad, but claiming a loss of business that forces obscene settlements particularly in the music industry? It’s just not logical unless if you can prove if that person would have bought your product in the first place should such MP3 downloads are not available.
A cease and desist punishable by the law or fines is good enough. What point is there to bankrupt a poor struggling housewife when her young naive son downloads?

IP and Creatives

At the end of the day we are fast approaching a creativity cusp. A melting pot of fast internet, digital media, and miniaturization of manufacturing (fabbing). When you can download CAD files off the net and “print it” on your desktop, my inclination is to give the files away for free!
And why not? It takes a big change in mind set, but the reality of trying to protect digital media is like carrying water in a sieve.
From a designer’s stand point, content creation NOT content protection will becomes even more and more important. It will also become a discussion of the difference between amateur and professionals. I coined the term Hyper-creative in my previous post “Fabbing: A primer for Guerilla Design Strategies” and that will be what design professionals need to become in this new product development era ruled by digital media and the Internet.

  • Postage Printing

    October 2, 2008 at 12:46 pm Reply

    Amazing stuff.. This is just what I was looking for!

  • Luis

    September 15, 2008 at 6:14 pm Reply

    Good point Csven. Ignorance is never an excuse and more should be done to avoid piracy.

  • csven

    November 8, 2007 at 8:37 am Reply

    Just wanted to mention that I think news today out of the recording industry puts it near a tipping point. The hit on declining CD sales is too much for them to overcome.
    Whereas the studio heads and shareholders had the luxury of letting the business fall apart so long as they maintained their own profits (within their particular windows), that tactic is nearing the end of its usefulness. I think we may start seeing an increase in the accelerating decline in profits and the exodus of a significant portion of middle managers over the coming year.
    The labels do offer a worthwhile service, as I suggested above. They’ve just not been doing a very good job of it from the bands pov. Thus I expect we’ll also see a minor explosion in a different kind of label being formed by those who exit the industry. And that could bode well for a LOT of ancillary services: accountants, graphic designers, packaging people, media people, aso.
    Will be very interesting to watch this as it might hold some lessons for our profession.

  • DT

    November 5, 2007 at 2:40 pm Reply

    Oh yes I agree the responsibility should be the parents! Thats why i find killing off the parents pointless. Regardless I do agree with you of the motivations behind this monetization of downloads.
    Also very good and valid points on the record industry’s understanding of its position. But to me, I see this as a great opportunity and I think niche bands wanting to break into the industry can easily do so, by adopting a business mindset and well as going against this current anti-download mindset.

  • csven

    November 2, 2007 at 11:02 pm Reply

    “But I am questioning the heavy handed tactics and motivations. There is also the idea of nannying people here as well and should be about education instead.”

    I thought the tactics and motivations were obvious. As for education, is that the company’s responsibility or the parents?
    I’m of course not saying I agree with their tactics, but I do understand why they’re being used. So long as they can monetize those illegal downloads – and they can – they’re not going to die off anytime soon (which is why I constantly tell people to *ignore* their product if they want to change the System).
    The bigger threat to the established music industry is if musicians, fearing repercussions from their label’s activities, decide to walk away from contracts and deal directly with their audience. But as Trent Reznor recently said in an interview, how many musicians really want to become a Business? Radiohead doesn’t. ANd faced with an inability to track downloads like the labels, as well as the enormity of all the rest (advertising, CD distribution, concert management, licensing, etc etc etc), how many bands will walk away from a contract that allows them to concentrate on music instead of running a business for which many of them are ill-prepared?
    I believe the labels have a good sense of their current position. Their business practices might be outdated, but that doesn’t mean they’re not looking at all angles and taking those actions which best protect their interests.

  • DT

    November 2, 2007 at 11:54 am Reply

    Hi Matthew, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave comments!
    Hey csven, yes I have read the post and even wiki-ed the short story. I think my point here is not about right or wrong. Stealing candy vs stealing 1 million dollars is the same. It is stealing and it is wrong. But I am questioning the heavy handed tactics and motivations. There is also the idea of nannying people here as well and should be about education instead.
    Hi Mario, thanks for dropping by. I think you are right, most of it will be eventually given away for free. But again nothing as you know, is REALLY free. This system will rely on revenue generation by other means and we need to start to think about it and think about it way ahead of time. To me this is what makes “change” so fun to deal with!

  • Mario Vellandi

    November 2, 2007 at 6:46 am Reply

    Interesting trend in p2p that will materialize greater in time. With only slight modifications as common as they are now, and the amount of counterfeit goods sold across the world…it seems everything even the highly technical and complex will be copied…if the costs of doing so are less than the potential reward. What I see increasingly though, is the generation of ‘commons’, whether purposely created to share in order to gain acceptance within a larger modular framework and supplier/manufacturer community, or sold as template packages (such as those for paper packaging, or vector artwork).

  • csven

    November 2, 2007 at 6:10 am Reply

    “What point is there to bankrupt a poor struggling housewife when her young naive son downloads?”

    Don’t misunderstand, I have as little sympathy for these people as I do for the corporations. Ignorance is never excusable in my book, whether for the laws which govern the place where one lives or the potential consequences of one’s actions.
    If you’ve not read Cascio’s blog entry regarding Molecular Rights Management (or my entry about it: ), I would suggest you take the time. And if/when you read it, consider that the behaviors being learned by children today will likely be the same when the stakes are much, much higher.

  • Matthew Anton

    November 2, 2007 at 1:58 am Reply

    Good points…if your product is original enough than you shouldn’t obsess about people copying, plus name brand recognition like you stated with Apple. And the point about d/ling music you might not buy is the best one I heard on that subject; they easily inflate what’s “stolen” by using download figures even though half those people would never have bought it in the first place

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