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Lego tries to get ahead of 3D printing curve

Faces a challenge to its manufacturing, retail business, may need to focus on intellectual property

Right now, for toy manufacturer Lego, “Everything is Awesome.” In addition to the company’s ridiculously popular brick toys, Lego is raking in money from video games, theme parks, and one of the best-reviewed movies of 2014. But a technological challenge far greater than the threat of President Business looms on the horizon: 3D printing

Thanks to the miracle of this new technology, consumers can create objects on their 3D printers for a fraction of the cost of buying those items in a retail environment. All they need is the right template, and they can churn out whatever products they need. In the case Lego fans, they can create simple blocks, Lego figurines (known as MiniFigs) and even customized pieces that are not available from the corporate catalog. For hobbyists who love building (and aspire to Nathan Sawaya levels of creativity) the appeal of 3D-printed Lego pieces will be sorely tempting.

So what is a corporation to do? The music, movie and publishing industries have faced challenges with the advent of new technology that has allowed consumers to pirate content, and now, it seems, toy manufacturers are poised to face similar obstacles. Well, if Lego is smart, say the folks at, it will transition itself into a purveyor of intellectual property. The company could provide digital models of its products for use in 3D printers, opening up the playbook and allowing people to modify designs and even create custom figurines with their own images. Lego may take a cue from the recording industry, greatly cutting down on its own physical manufacturing and instead focusing on digital content.

In the meantime, it can be happy it has diversified into other areas, like theme parks, video games and movies. After all, that Lego Movie sequel has got to be in the works, right? I might just print myself out a Lego igloo and start waiting in line for tickets…


For more on 3D printing, check out the following:

IP: Five 3D Printing headlines and the law issues they raise

Technology: Will the Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown 3D printing?

The IP counsel's role in integrating IP in the business plan

Senior Editor and Community Manager

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Rich Steeves

Richard P. Steeves is Senior Editor and Community Manager of InsideCounsel magazine, where he covers the intellectual property and compliance beats. Rich earned a B.A....

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