Additive Layer Manufacturing or 3D printing as it is more commonly known is increasingly being embraced by the manufacturing sectors. The technology, although, in its early stages has already raised questions pertaining to intellectual property (IP) implications. This paper considers the IP implications of 3D printing. In particular the paper considers the challenges to patent law, trademark law, copyright law and design law as a result of this emerging technology. The paper also questions whether lessons can be learned from the entertainment industry and the manner in which this industry has attempted to deal with online piracy. The paper suggests that rather than focusing on stringent IP laws, the future in dealing with emerging technologies which challenges IP laws lie in adopting new business models in adapting to technologies such as 3D printing.
Main Results of the Study
- It is important to "adapt" to 3D printing and "adopt" new business models rather than focus merely on the law
- IP implications of 3D printing are far from clear. While 3D printing a product may not infringe one element of IP law, it is quite possible that it will breach another type of IP. To complicate matters, the above assessment also revealed that the same branch of IP can lead to both infringement and non-infringement of protected products which are 3D printed. For example, while under s.10 of TMA 1994, it will be an infringement to print a product protected by a trade mark, s.11(2) states that if labelled correctly, infringement can be avoided
- Similar to online platforms such as Napster, Grokster, Pirate Bay and Megaupload which facilitated and induced online infringement of copyright, it is quite possible that new online platforms such as Thingiverse, Shapeways, Cubify and Quirky will facilitate 3D printing of products—which are protected by IP laws—in time to come. However, unlike MP3 files and video copying which produced perfect copies, the same will not be true for 3D printing.
- The material that will be needed to carry out 3D printing, could prove to be a challenge, but this could be an opportunity for the start-up of new businesses and business ventures specialising in raw materials which will be needed for 3D printing. At present prices vary from €30 to €218 depending on the amount of raw material needed
- It is difficult to compete with free —i.e. pirated and counterfeit content which is available online for free
Policy Implications as Stated By Author
- The most obvious, yet most important recommendation in adapting to 3D printing is to adopt a new business model.
- One suggestion for manufacturers is to join together to create a parts store, similar to the iTunes model.150 The objective would be to provide for a convenient one-stop-shop for buying (spare) parts, for 3D printing, for a small fee. The drawback of this model is the risk of creating a monopoly. The entertainment industry welcomed Apple’s iTunes business model when it was launched and was in fact reluctant to license to anyone else. Now, with Apple having the upper hand or the monopoly, the entertainment industry is in constant negotiation with Apple regarding their pricing strategy. The stakeholder most likely to lose out from such negotiations is the artist. In the present context, it could be the manufacturer who could be losing out. Bearing in mind the above drawback, maybe a better option would be to license 3D files more widely
- On a more practical level, stores should consider having a physical presence and an online presence with a 3D arm attached to the online store as well—where 3D designs can be sold for a competitive price.
- It is hoped that the law will not stifle 3D printing
- The time will come when significant decisions will need to be made. At that time, one option will be to follow in the footsteps of the entertainment industry and shy away from the technology, thereby enforcing stricter intellectual property laws; or be more creative by adapting to the emerging 3D technology by adopting new business models. In learning valuable lessons from the entertainment industry’s experience, the hope is that the latter option will be chosen.
Coverage of Study
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|| Legal regime
| Period of material under study:
|| Not stated