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Global Media and Communications Watch The International Legal Blog for the Tech, Media and Telecoms Industry
Posted in Policy & Regulation Yvonne DraheimSabrina Dücker

When 3D-printing challenges IP rights

3D-printing changes the way we develop products: an idea can be transformed into a tangible product faster than ever and it is not even expensive anymore.

But what is 3D-printing? Simply put, it is a machine that builds an object out of base materials bu successively stacking thin layers of the material in accordance with a Computer-Aided Design (CAD). The major advantage over conventional moulding processes is its adaptability: one 3D printer can print any template and does not require prefabricated moulds. the template can be created by using a CAD program or by using special 3D scanners if the object already exists.

The first patent application in connection with 3D-printing was filed in the 1980s, but it took decades for 3D-printing to become as viable as it nowadays. Today, 3D-printing offers various printing methods and can print almost anything from medicine, weapons, to organs and even food (Bioprinting). This versatility allows 3D-printing to revolutionalize almost every industry sector.

Since the prices have fallen, 3D-printers are no longer just a product for the industry but for everyone. On the internet, templates can be exchanged on online forums (both legally and illegally).

Businesses need to take note

Entrepreneurs should acknowledge the potential of this technolgy and should not be lagging behind developments in this area. However, despite its benefits, 3D-printing also poses risks with regard to IP rights:

  • For example, the question of liability is raised where print shops create products from originals provided by third parties and from online file-sharing networks for 3D-print templates.
  • Also, users of 3D-printers have to make sure that no IP rights, e.g. patents, designs and trademarks, will be infringed.
  • If you commission another company to create templates for your own 3D-printers, or if you delegate the entire print job to them, it should be ensured that you will have full legal access to the result.
  • Finally, if 3D-printed products impair your IP rights, you should be well prepared to request the desctruction of the products and assert claims for injunctive relieff and damages against the infringer. Also, the circulation of the CAD in online forums should be stopped by requesting the operators to remove the template and to prevent a re-upload

Want to know more?For further information on the impact of 3D printing across industry sectors and legal fields, please visit our HL.com topic centre and read our related posts.