Proprietary Benefits from Open Communities: How MakerBot Leveraged Thingiverse in 3D Printing

27 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2015

See all articles by Joel West

Joel West

KGI - Keck Graduate Institute

George Kuk

Nottingham University Business School

Date Written: January 20, 2014


Our understanding of open source models of innovation is primarily based on research on open source software. This research focuses on the underlying challenges in developing a user-based community as a complementary asset, and at the same time strengthening appropriability regimes without losing control over the technologies that are fundamental to their business success. Yet less is known about new start-ups driven by open hardware. Here we study 3D printing, and how MakerBot Industries leveraged open hardware and content to become a multimillion dollar firm based on selling closed source hardware, while nurturing its open online content community. Using a longitudinal case study design, we identify three distinct phases in how MakerBot created and nurtured the Thingiverse community as a free resource of user-created digital designs that could be printed as physical goods through its physical printers, both creating value for the community and demand for its products. We analyze MakerBot’s ability to win community acceptance for its increasingly proprietary strategy, and offer broader implications for managing user communities, open hardware design and partly open platform strategies.

Keywords: 3D printing; online communities; ecosystems; open source; open design

Suggested Citation

West, Joel and Kuk, George, Proprietary Benefits from Open Communities: How MakerBot Leveraged Thingiverse in 3D Printing (January 20, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Joel West (Contact Author)

KGI - Keck Graduate Institute ( email )

535 Watson Drive
Claremont, CA 91711
United States
909-293-8550 (Phone)


George Kuk

Nottingham University Business School ( email )

Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB
United Kingdom

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