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  1. #1
    Engineer-in-Training
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    Oct 2013
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    3D printed Legos - A patent/copyright Issue?

    Alright so I saw this video post today by Nerdgasm. He basically prints out 3D printed compatible Lego blocks using an Ultimaker 3D printer. This isn't a difficult thing to print, in fact, it's probably one of the more simple things. It took him a little over 5 hours to print 20 Lego like blocks. Here's the video:



    Big deal right? Well, not so fast..... If you have a 3D printer, why bother spending money on Lego's. Sure, right now the cost of the filament, the electricity to run the printer, and the time it takes to set things up may not be worth the cost of a box of Lego blocks, but within a couple years costs will come down. At this point Lego, the company, really has no say in the matter. Sure, they could try to enforce patents, but that doesn't really stop people from either scanning in their blocks at home, and printing them out, or sharing the files with one another. This will change their business model and thousands of other company's business models as well. We are moving towards an information only economy in the long run. Here is an image. The blue block furthest back is a real Lego, and the other three are blocks printed on various different 3D printers.


  2. #2
    Staff Engineer
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    Jan 2014
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    Oakland, CA
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    I don't see a problem here, for Lego or anyone who might want to print their own blocks, as long as they don't print the Lego logo on them and try to pass them off as the real thing (in which case they'd be violating the trademark). Patent protection for the basic Lego blocks expired a long time ago, so that's not an issue. And there's no way that printing blocks at home will ever be as time-efficient or cost-effective as injection-molding them, even if costs come down substantially. Lego expends a lot of effort on quality control, so their blocks are always going to work better than any home-printed copies.

    While it's certainly possible for people to print Lego-compatible parts to customize their own creations, that seems more likely to spur demand for the basic bricks than to supplant it. Lego is a very savvy company, which has pioneered home robotics kits (Mindstorm) and taken advantage of crowd-sourcing to generate new product ideas. It looks like they are more likely to turn the 3D printing craze to their own advantage than to let it harm them. Here's an article about them to ponder: http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/arch...ilding-success

    Andrew Werby
    www.computersculpture.com

  3. #3
    Super Moderator
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    I wouldn't expect 3D printed bricks to work all that well. Lego has pretty damn high standards for precision, which I don't think 3D printers are capable of matching yet.

  4. #4
    Student chaitanyak's Avatar
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    Jan 2014
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    interesting topic.. i don't know if just leaving out the logo will protect you from trouble.. it might considering that Lego themselves copied the peg fitting idea from someone else.. but then those were simpler times.. now a lawyer would argue that this is identical to screengrabing a tv show and then blurring out the channel logo..

  5. #5
    At the local 3D printer lab in town they've got a whole box of 3D printed lego-type blocks. Some click better than others, and on the whole it's impressive that they can click together at all, but it's not nearly as good as the real thing.

  6. #6
    Engineer
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    Sep 2013
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    New Jersey, USA
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    Quote Originally Posted by cjackson61 View Post
    At the local 3D printer lab in town they've got a whole box of 3D printed lego-type blocks. Some click better than others, and on the whole it's impressive that they can click together at all, but it's not nearly as good as the real thing.
    That's true, but there is no reason that legos that work just as well as the real thing won't be here very soon.

  7. #7
    Super Moderator
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larry View Post
    That's true, but there is no reason that legos that work just as well as the real thing won't be here very soon.
    I would personally doubt we'll see those for awhile. Legos are ABS moulded to 2 micron tolerances. Even ultra price units like Stratasys' Objet printers can only do 16 micron resolution at best.

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