3D printing may also disrupt product liability laws

In their recently published paper, ‘What Shall we do with the Drunken Sailor? Product Safety in the Aftermath of 3D Printing,’ Klaus Heine and Shu Li discuss how a disruptive technology like 3D printing can also upset other more peripheral areas such as legal issues and product liability. Safety mechanisms must be in place to protect the public, and the authors question why there is not more concern over potentially ‘harmful 3D printed products,’ with an analysis of why ‘incumbent product liability law does not incentivize optimal deterrence.’

Focusing on the many novel 3D printing startups and business models associated with 3D printing as the ‘trigger,’ the authors point out how little informational content regarding ‘specific producers’ is provided.

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SLM Solutions and Identify3D collaborate to protect IP in 3D printing

SLM Solutions, a German metal 3D printer manufacturer, has announced that it will integrate the digital security platform of San Francisco-based Identify3D into its workflow. The partnership is an effort to protect intellectual property (IP) in additive manufacturing.

Digital files protected by Identify3D can only be manufactured with an authenticated machine. Image via Identify3D.

CTO of SLM Solutions Dr. Gereon Heinemann, said, “SLM Solutions recognizes the trend as additive transforms manufacturing into a digital workflow.”

Intellectual property in 3D printing

As the applications of 3D printing has widened, protection of intellectual propertyhas become a greater concern. This issue is also among the reasons some companies develop in-house prototyping facilities. Recently, the UK Intellectual Property Office participated in the IP in 3D printing debate.

Founded in 2014, Identify3D aims to protect IP in 3D printing by encrypting the digital supply chain. The company is partners with several leading enterprises including 3YOURMINDRenishawSiemens, and America Makes.

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3D Printing and the Law: Interview with Rania Sedhom

The law and 3D printing is a very exciting emerging area of interest for many. What exactly happens with to 3D printed products and liability or IP? Most people in 3D printing don’t want separate laws for 3D printing or 3D printed goods. But, in 3D printed guns we’ve seen lawmakers jump into the crazy clown car of legislating by press release and make separate laws for 3D printing. What will the future hold? Rania Sedhom of Sedhom Law Group reached out to us to share her insights.

Lawmakers seem intent on creating new legislation specifically for 3D printing. Do you agree with that?

Yes, I do. While the technology is a mesh (pun intended) of software and textile, it is unique and needs its own legislation.

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3D Printing and gaps in Intellectual Property law

In a paper entitled “From IP Goals to 3D Holes: Does Intellectual Property Law Provide a Map or Gap in the Era of 3D Printing?” author Autumn Smith discusses issues with intellectual property law and 3D printing. 3D printing complicated as it “stretches across many facets of the law,” says Smith. It involves a machine, a product, a digital process, and often the translation of that process.

In a paper entitled “From IP Goals to 3D Holes: Does Intellectual Property Law Provide a Map or Gap in the Era of 3D Printing?” author Autumn Smith discusses issues with intellectual property law and 3D printing. 3D printing complicated as it “stretches across many facets of the law,” says Smith. It involves a machine, a product, a digital process, and often the translation of that process.

“The eventual low cost of 3D printing combined with their ability to produce most physical things will fundamentally change the economics of industrial manufacturing,” states Smith. “Much like the Internet, 3D printers separate the content of the product from the information used to create it, which, in turn, will substantially reduce the manufacturing costs. This feature will inevitably mean that the production of items can come from virtually anywhere which will certainly present problems for governments and markets.”

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3D printing and product liability: who is liable?

According to product liability law in the European Union, producers of products are subject to strict liability if products are defective and this leads to violations of certain legal interests (life, body, health, privately used objects). Persons other than producers are only liable under additional conditions.

“Producer” is therefore a key term in product liability law. If products are manufactured using 3D printing, the roles existing in the conventional value chain (supplier-producer-dealer-user) may change. Wholesalers and retailers may not be part of it, but other players may be added, such as the creator of the CAD file that contains the individual commands for controlling the 3D printer, and the person printing out the end product (a private or commercial user or an additional service provider). Product liability law – this applies to Germany, but equally to all other EU Member States – is based on the conventional value chain, however, and contains provisions which, unmodified, do not take account of these changed roles. For reasons of correctly offering incentives (those who are able to prevent or minimize risks should be given incentives to do so, within economic reason), but also for considerations of fairness, a broad interpretation of the term “producer” is therefore advisable. On the other hand, it seems appropriate to limit the liability of the persons so included to areas that they are controlling.

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3D printing companies take action against 3D guns amid debatable public safety threat

A 3D printer at work in Philadelphia's NextFab studios. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

At the South Philadelphia high-tech makers’ space NextFab, creators of all types work on projects using laser cutters, robots, and a room full of 3D printers.

Walt Barger, who manages the printing operations there, is standing between two printers the size of refrigerators, noting both their power and price tag.

“It’s an older printer, but it’s still a $40,000 machine,” he said, pointing to one. “And the one next to it, the ProJet, is a $100,000 machine.”

Lately, Barger has been extra vigilant about the kinds of things people are hoping to create here.

“Our staff is always monitoring. If we see anything that even looks like a gun, we’re going to stop the person,” he said.

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Sparing a thought for Intellectual Property

With the rapid rise of the additive manufacturing sector, it has become increasingly possible for industry players to make spare and replacement parts in a cost-effective manner. What’s more, the sector lends itself especially well to the fabrication of parts for the customisation of existing products and equipment. As such, all parties in the supply chain need to be acutely aware of the very real risks of IP infringement in this evolving space, says Jason Teng, partner and patent attorney at leading full service IP law firm, Potter Clarkson.

As things stand, different considerations apply depending on the type of IP rights covering a particular part or a complex product that includes the part. For instance, the manufacture of a whole patented product would normally constitute patent infringement, unless certain exceptions apply such as private non-commercial use. On the other hand, the manufacture of a spare/replacement part for incorporation into a patented product could either constitute an infringing “making” of the patented product or a non-infringing “repair”, which would vary on a case-by-case basis. On this note, some guidance can be found in a 2011 Supreme Court decision in the Schütz v Werit case.

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CECIMO worries further 3D printing IP regulation in Europe will stifle innovation

CECIMO believes the current 3D printing intellectual property rights framework is fit for purpose.

CECIMO logoCECIMO, the European Association of the Machine Tool Industries, has said the European Parliament risks stifling 3D printing innovation by introducing premature regulatory measures to protect Intellectual Property.

The European Parliament recently released a non-binding resolution entitled ‘Three-dimensional printing: intellectual property rights and civil liability’, with 631 votes in favour, 27 against, and 19 abstentions. It called for sterner parameters surrounding IP infringements and has suggested a potential revision of the Liability and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) regulatory framework for 3D printing within the European Union, and has also raised the feasibility of national copyright levy systems.

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EU parliament adopts resolution on 3D-printing

From Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP:

On 3 July 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution entitled ‘Three-dimensional printing: a challenge in the fields of intellectual property rights and civil liability’.

The resolution starts by pointing out that 3D printing – also known as additive manufacturing – could be of great benefit to the European economy.

But the document mainly looks at the legal issues the technology raises. For example, it says more public awareness is needed to protect IP rights relating to 3D printing and calls on the European Commission to consider issues around civil liability. It even suggests the Commission could set up a specific liability regime.

According to the Parliament, the EU may have to adopt new, and amend existing, laws to take account of 3D printing. With the report claiming that Europe can play a leading role in additive manufacturing, it will be interesting to see how quickly the Commission moves to tackle the issues raised.

Ever considered the legal implications of 3D printing in construction?

MX3D BridgeImagine a printer in the middle of a construction site programmed with a designer’s plans and specifications to build an entire home from scratch. As concrete is fed into the printing device, a technician hits enter on her computer and a 3D printer starts fabricating the structure’s walls and roof.

The final product will be created almost entirely by pre-programmed software and a movable printer injecting concrete, with no need for human construction workers. This isn’t science fiction, it’s a reality on the cutting edge of construction and technology.

The use of 3D printers in the construction industry will have legal implications that will affect owners, contractors, manufacturers and software developers.

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