If you hadn’t heard of 3D printing it does perhaps begs the question “where have you been?”. 3D printers are big news at the moment and look to be taking off in a big way. In essence 3D printers use an additive manufacturing process, wherein 3D objects are built up by adding layer upon layer of material that is fused together, in order to produce a desired shape. This type of printing most recently hit the news when an American software-distributing company, Defence Distributed, released the downloadable computer-aided design (CAD) file containing the computer instructions for manufacturing their 3D-printable working gun, the “Liberator”, which is made out of ABS plastic.
Within the first two days of being released on a cloud storage service, the “Liberator” blueprint CAD file was estimated to have been downloaded 100,000 times, by users all over the world. Public access to the file has since been disabled, after a request by the US State Department of Defence Trade Controls, but it just goes to show how quickly designers can distribute their products without having to invest time and money into high-volume orders from specialist manufacturers.
I can’t say I know anyone who owns a 3D printer, but with the US arm of Staples recently becoming the first high street retailer to sell affordable 3D printers (at around £850) and plans to offer the devices in its European stores, 3D printers look set to break into everyday homes in the near future.
However, whilst digitally offering design files for making products may help designers and inventors cheaply develop and sell their goods to customers across the globe, this also raises new problems. The question of how to control the use and distribution of these design files is one that those in the music and book publishing industries will be all too familiar with.
Copyright, designs, patents and trade marks will all have a role to play in protecting these design files and the physical objects they represent from piracy and unauthorised use; but it is clear that these forms of intellectual property will need to adapt in order to meet the new challenges presented by this model of distribution.
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking before any action in reliance on it.