Copyright Before Corona: Company Threatens Italian Volunteers Who Made Desperately Needed Ventilators On 3-D Printers

Cristian Fracassi, who along with fellow volunteer Alessandro Ramaioli were tired of watching people die for lack of ventilators in Italy. The two men decided to act and made the ventilators for $1 to save lives. The company responded by saying that they were violating its copyright and may be liable for huge damages. The men are undeterred and responded “there were people whose lives were in danger and we acted. Period.”

Here’s the kicker: the printed valves are believed to have saved at least 10 people’s lives in a hospital in the northern Italian city of Brescia. 

The two men work at the 3-D printing startup Isinnova and worked with physicist Massimo Temporelli to assist with producing the valves for only $1 rather than $11,000 a piece — even if the company were able to meet demand (which it cannot).

Call it another pyrrhic victory for copyright laws.

I have been a critic of these copyright and trademark laws and the firms that routinely bully citizens into costly settlements on threat of financial ruin. Now however you have lawyers who are threatening such ruin in the middle of a pandemic killing scores of people who need these devices.

25 thoughts on “Copyright Before Corona: Company Threatens Italian Volunteers Who Made Desperately Needed Ventilators On 3-D Printers”

  1. “We don’t say this to brag, but to show what is possible. In a moment of crisis, and in a moment when commerce globally is shutting down, there are still many do-it-yourself ways of helping the people around you.” – Cristian Fracassi and Alessandro Romaioli

    In today’s New York Times:

    “We Made Copies of Ventilator Parts to Help Hospitals Fight Coronavirus”

    Even in a quarantine, innovation can help.

    By Cristian Fracassi and Alessandro Romaioli

    Mr. Fracassi and Mr. Romaioli are engineers at Isinnova.

    March 22, 2020

    BRESCIA, Italy — Our small city has been on lockdown for nearly two weeks. The streets are silent. Many factories are closed. The only people allowed outside are those walking their dogs, heading to the grocery store or those who have permission from the government. A few of our friends are hospitalized from the coronavirus, with many more in quarantine at home. Hundreds of people have died here.

    In mid March, we heard that doctors from a nearby hospital didn’t have enough valves for their lifesaving ventilator machines. And the company that produced the valves couldn’t meet the growing demand.

    Our company is five years old. We make earthquake sensors, silicone bandages, bicycles — practical stuff. We had never made valves before, but we wanted to help.

    We visited the hospital to see the valve, which connects the patient to the breathing machine, mixing pure oxygen with air that enters through a rectangular window. It looks like a chess piece waving one arm and it needs to be replaced for each patient.

    We came back to our office and started working, fueled by adrenaline. Our first few attempts didn’t succeed, but eventually we made four copies of the prototype on a small 3-D printing machine that we have in our office.

    (Image of the 3-D printing machine:

    While the valve might look like a simple piece of plastic, it’s pretty complex; the hole that diffuses the oxygen is less than a millimeter in diameter.)

    The day after, we returned to the hospital and gave our valves to a doctor who tested them. They worked and he asked for 100 more. So we went back to the office, and returned to the hospital with 100 more. We hoped that this would last them for a few days. Still, the coronavirus rages on. A few hospitals in northern Italy asked us to make copies of the same piece. We are printing them now.

    As the pandemic continues to worsen in other countries, we would like everyone to know that we are willing to share our 3-D model. There’s a catch, though; The model we recreated is called a Venturi valve, and different ventilators likely need different types of valves. People in other places might have to step in with new designs.

    This sparked a second idea: to modify a snorkeling mask already on the market to create a ventilation-assisted mask for hospitals in need of additional equipment, which was successful when the hospital tested it on a patient in need.

    We don’t say this to brag, but to show what is possible. In a moment of crisis, and in a moment when commerce globally is shutting down, there are still many do-it-yourself ways of helping the people around you.

    Cristian Fracassi (@cristianfracass) is a civil engineer with a Ph.D. in polymer science. Alessandro Romaioli is a mechanical engineer.

    More power to them — and other like-minded folks.

  2. This news turned out to be highly exaggerated. The next day the “volunteers” revealed that they had not actually been threatened. The company had refused to provide them with copies of their plans, which were their property, and they had reverse engineered the item. It was a replacement. part, not an entire ventilator. The whole story was subject to hyperboli. No threats were actually made.

  3. John Say, it is not copyright law here but rather patent law. Jonathan Turley’s source managed to mangle the story almost beyond recognition.

  4. Copyright laws were never intended to cover objects.

    This is what happens when you allow broad interpretations of narrow law and concepts.

  5. Thanks for writing about this case, Jon. Isinnova comes off as pure slime in a PR sense on this one and, if successful in shutting these volunteers down, deserve to weather the harsh buggery sure to be set upon them by market forces in a post Covid 19 world.

    Awesome Covid content, Professor. Carry on, my friend.

  6. Jonathan Turley, you really need to vet your sources; due diligence. This one is unreliable.

    You also need to learn the difference between patent law and copyright law.

    Basically this post is like Swiss cheese; full of holes. But it smells like Limberger.

    —David B Benson

    1. “This one is unreliable.” -DBB

      How do you know?

      It’s TechDirt. Is everything from TechDirt ‘unreliable’, IYO?

  7. Hmm. I suspect patent law is applicable here, not copyright. So I suppose that the company could make a case of it, but won’t.

  8. Gotta love warriors of any nation. Up yours, hee hee. I would gladly join them and/or represent them against the business at no cost. Ain’t an Italian jury in the world gonna convict these guys of anything. Carry on, brothers, carry on. Big respect! Big1

    1. The Company will win with a directed verdict. No need for a jury in an admitted intellectual property theft. The problem is there are no profits to disgorge and the damages are negligible. A classic case of virtue being its own reward — and immunity.

  9. Let’s not get all worked up and hyperventilate about the law based on incorrect facts. According to The Verge: >>>But in an interview with The Verge, Romaioli denied they’d received threats. He said the company had simply refused to release design files, forcing them to reverse-engineer the valve. “I talked to an operator who told me he couldn’t give me the files, but after that we didn’t receive anything from the original company — so I can assure you we didn’t get any threat,” he said. “They said they couldn’t give us the file because it’s company property, but that’s all.” While earlier reporting said the original valve cost over $10,000, Fracassi also told Fast Company that this number was inaccurate.<<<<

  10. It is not an exact copy, only functionally equivalent. Under US copyright laws case would be tossed on its ear.

    —- David B Benson

  11. Necessity is the mother of invention. This is an emergency situation. They can give the used machines to the company when the pandemic is over.

  12. No jury is going to hold these guys liable for anything. The company is wasting its breath and generating bad publicity for itself.

  13. The absolute, singular cause of the global existential threat, in all of its aspects and corollaries, is none other than China.

    Criminal prosecution and civil litigation must commence immediately against China.

    1. Please know that Saudi Arabia (Dear Allie.) was also a bad actor, and their government labs caused animal viruses to jump lanes too in 2012.

      In 2012, a second coronavirus infection occurred in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries characterized by severe pneumonia with a case mortality rate of 36%. This was caused by a coronavirus which had spread from bats to dromedary camels. This disease is called the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). This infection is still present with very low prevalence in the middle east, but is controlled by public health measures. — Roy Adaniya, MD, Pulmonology

      Two authoritarian regimes, who hold their citizens in low regard.

      1. MERS was not as contagious, lethal or pervasive as the “Wuhan Flu.”

        The perpetrators of these existential threats must be compelled to cease and desist in perpetuity.

        1. The Chinese themselves attributed the outbreak to Chinese “wet markets” which the Chinese did not ban and proscribe, or effectively inspect and regulate.

    2. One correction. It was a part needed for the ventilators not the ventilators themselves.

  14. The law’s the law
    ’til it’s breaking the law.
    And some laws are higher than others.
    Seems to me Fracassi and Ramaioli are obeying a higher law –
    may they be well rewarded for it.

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