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Corporate Logos in the Age of 3D Printers

Chris Dickman Thu, 06/20/2013 - 09:05

Corporate logos can have a lot of value, to the point where firms such as Disney maintain vast intellectual property departments to ensure that none of its valuable brand assets, such as logos and characters, are used without permission. After all, Disney wouldn't want its many logos or one of its immortal characters used out of context. And nothing gets Disney's IP staffers testier than cases in which such assets are used within the context of commercial products for which no licensing fees are paid. But thanks to 3D printing, that's exactly what's going to happen and there seems to be little Disney, or anyone else, can do about it.

The rapid expansion of affordable 3D printers for the home, as well as service bureaus that can print with a growing range of materials, makes it inevitable that such attributes of brand identity will slip from corporate control. It's no longer the case of intercepting boatloads of Chinese Mickey Mouse key chains. Instead, we'll soon all be able to make our own, thanks to online repositories of models. This is equally bad news for luxury brands, with the proliferation of unlicensed objects marked with their logos inevitably removing much of the cachet of buying the real thing. Their only response may be to move to a more subtler approach to branding that's communicated by design, rather than slapping on an ostentatious logo.

But wouldn't all this be illegal, you ask? Perhaps, but who is the criminal, the creator of the printable file? Or perhaps the site that's hosting it? Or would it be the service bureau that printed it out? Or the end user, who either downloaded the file or created it before printing it out at home? There will be court cases in the years ahead to answer these questions and they'll no doubt win some battles, but the war is lost in advance.

Below are models using commercial, unlicensed logos that I found within a few minutes of searching popular repositories. It has begun.