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Time to print some new 3D laws?


3D printing has been back in the news recently with highlights including the publication of Amazon’s US patent application relating to item delivery via 3D manufacturing on demand and the Kickstarter campaign in aid of the Diamond Hotend print head that has three heating chambers connected to a single nozzle for improved precision and calibration as reported by Gizmag.

With all the buzz around 3D printing, it is encourgaging to see that the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO) has taken proactive steps to investigate any issues the 3D printing industry will raise for the current IP system by commissioning an independent report into the implications of 3D printing. The primary legal concerns highlighted by the report appear to be the uncertainty regarding the scope of protection afforded by copyright to computer-aided design (CAD) files and the level of consistency between jurisdictions such as the UK and the US. Furthermore, there are the additional complications of distributing such CAD files using online platforms that are, by their very nature, extraterritorial.

The second part of the report focused on the impact of 3D printing in various parts of the industrial sector, including the automotive and domestic appliance aftermarkets, customised goods and other high value, small status goods such as collectables and ornaments.

The report also identified that there is evidence of small-scale infringement of intellectual property. However, taking into account the maturity of the hardware and software that is currently available to home consumers of 3D printing technology, the authors concluded that infringement is not widespread and does not give rise to major concern at this stage. This is particularly the case for the replacement parts market for automotive and domestic appliances where the authors believe that the technological breakthroughs needed to provide parts of a suitable quality and durability would take at least a decade to materialise based on the current pace of development.

Accordingly, their view is that whilst steps should be taken to work towards an environment that will be able to tackle the impending IP issues more successfully, premature legislative or judicial action could stifle interest in the technology and discourage innovation.

As we have seen with online music services, it will be important to promote the use of legal channels for providing access to the CAD filed needed to print 3D objects in order to mitigate piracy. With this aim, a number of online platforms (such as Authentise) already provide CAD file marketplaces that include some form of pay-per-print Digital Rights Management service or streaming service that provides the build instructions directly to a user’s 3D printer such that the user does not need to be in possession of the CAD file.

As the history of music downloads has shown us, it is vital that industry embraces home 3D printing so that they can better understand how users will consume this 3D printing content, which in turn will lead to better-informed policymaking.

The two-part study, weighing in at a combined length of around 150 pages, can be found here and here; or the somewhat condensed executive summary can be found here.

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.

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