There is general consensus that 3D printing has potentially revolutionary implications for industry and, along with it, for the law. In terms of products liability law, its consequences for industry and consumers injured by 3D-printed products are potentially just as far-reaching.
Consider a fact pattern under which an auto parts manufacturer makes CAD files available to auto parts stores so that they may 3D print replacement auto parts on demand and on-site in response to customer needs. An auto parts store sells the 3D-printed part to a customer, who later is involved in an accident and blames the 3D-printed part for causing the accident.
A report from Clare Scott at 3DPrint.com on the events in Cleveland, Ohio.
I spent my day yesterday sitting in the main ballroom at Cleveland’s Ritz Carlton hotel with a few hundred attorneys, business leaders, and academics from across Northeast Ohio to discuss how 3D printing is changing how we do business. It was the second annual 3D Printing Conference hosted by Benesch Attorneys at Law, a prominent law firm whose focus areas include intellectual property law – a hot-button topic in the 3D printing industry right now. Unsurprisingly, intellectual property issues were a primary focus of the conference, formally entitled “What Every Business Must Know Today About 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing.”
So what does every business need to know about 3D printing? In short – everything. The speakers and panelists, who ranged from manufacturing leaders to college professors, all emphasized, repeatedly, that every business, no matter what the sector or client base, needs to get familiar with 3D printing – and fast. Dave Pierson, Senior Design Engineer for the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET), opened his presentation with a quote he attributed to 3D printing industry expert Terry Wohlers: “If you are not running in this space, you are already falling behind.” That was the consensus shared by everyone who presented yesterday: businesses, if you don’t leverage 3D printing, your competitors will, so start implementing it now.
Most hearing aids in the U.S. are now custom-made on 3D printers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first 3D-printed pills. Carmakers have started using 3D technology to produce parts. And last year saw the first demonstration of a digital printer producing multilayer, standards-based circuit boards. Imagine the changes afoot in the pharmaceutical, medical device, automotive, and consumer electronics industries.
3D printing is poised to redefine global manufacturing and distribution. It could upend supply chains, business models, customer relationships, and even entrepreneurship itself. It may do to physical goods what cloud computing is now doing to digital services; what the PC, internet, and smart mobility have done to personal computing; and what outsourcing did to software development and business processing — take mass distribution and innovation to the next level while realigning the very geography of work and trade.
The first time intellectual property attorney John Hornick saw a 3D printer at work, he thought it was a joke. It wasn’t until a friend at Johns Hopkins University convinced him that the tech was the real deal that Hornick took a deep dive into how 3D printing machines could change the world.
Hornick’s findings are collected in the new book, 3D Printing Will Rock the World, and below he tells Inverse exactly how most people may own a 3D printer by 2025, no matter how implausible that seems now.
It was bound to happen of course. When 3D printables files are available online for free and easily shared there was always going to be someone who would be willing to take advantage of that freedom. 3D printing technology is going to completely alter copyrights, trademarks and IP law dramatically over the next few years simply because there really are not a lot of ways to stop people from duplicating, and in some cases stealing and taking credit for, 3D content. Currently there are only two real defenses that 3D model designers have to prevent their work from being stolen; respect for the Creative Common licenses attached to 3D models and the ethical fortitude to not violate those licenses.
3D printed guns and firearms have once again become a hot-button issue within the 3D printing industry, as the world’s first 3D printed revolver has just come to light while the New South Wales government has implemented a law that specifically makes owning a 3D printed gun illegal. Yet even if firearms aren’t your cup of tea, if you either design or create 3D printed products, you could be infringing on IP law, copyrights, or a host of other legal issues without even knowing it.
As a topic that easily generates a lot more questions than answers, we could probably all use a little brushing up on the legal aspects surrounding 3D printing. Luckily, Dutch law firm De Clercq Advocaten Notarissen has just issued a brief yet educational white paper that covers everything from intellectual property law (IP) to copyright law, to the especially murky waters of product liability, all within the new reality of the 3D printing industrial revolution. Though written based on Dutch law and regulations, these are generally implemented based on the European Directives, and thus will be consistent with many other European countries, and in some cases perhaps not so far off from US or other nations’ policies.
3D printing is not just for tchotchkes anymore. Technological advancement paired with decreasing costs to build and/or purchase 3D printers create the perfect storm for the next industrial revolution. 3D printing technology will virtually transform the way companies conduct business, affecting manufacturing processes, disrupting the supply chain, and transforming primary and logistics businesses. Just as importantly, 3D printing, once it takes hold, will have substantial implications on intellectual property (“IP”): patents, copyrights and trademarks.
Analysts at Gartner predict that “[b]y 2018, 3D printing will result in the loss of at least $100 billion per year in intellectual property globally.” Gartner Reveals Top Predictions for IT Organizations and Users for 2014 and Beyond, October 8, 2013. It is easy to imagine why. For example, today there are a number of “online maker sites.” On Shapeways, users can upload digital design files of products, which Shapeways uses to 3D print products and ship back to the users. Shapeways also hosts online “shops” for users to sell their 3D printed products. Through Thingiverse, users can download other users’ design files to print products or “remix” products by modifying a file or merging multiple files.
The anxiety that 3D printing could lead to a new front in the war against counterfeiting and trademark infringement has increased exponentially this year, thanks to a predicted ‘explosion’ in the new technology due to the expiration of some key patents. Welcome new innovations could ease those worries but there is still much to be done.
3D printing and additive manufacturing technology is advancing at a startling rate, meaning more companies are introducing it as a means of cheaper and more efficient manufacturing. It also means much easier pirating of protected designs, as it requires just a digital 3D blueprint to be downloaded and printed to create an identical-looking copy. Gartner predicted earlier in the year that the emergence of 3D printing will create “major challenges” in relations to IP theft, predicting a loss “of at least $100 billion per year in IP globally” by 2018.