GAMAByte: The Legal Ramifications of Going 3D (Printing, That is)

625 views

Published on

3D printing has been around since the early 1980s, but over the last several years has gained widespread attention as costs have dropped and access to the technology has grown. While it is possible to surmise what areas of law may be most implicated by broad adoption of 3D printing, one can only guess how their application might shape the future of manufacturing.

Published in: Technology
0 Comments
0 Likes
Statistics
Notes
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Views
Total views
625
On SlideShare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
247
Actions
Shares
0
Downloads
1
Comments
0
Likes
0
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

GAMAByte: The Legal Ramifications of Going 3D (Printing, That is)

  1. 1. GAMAByte: The Legal Ramifications of Going 3D (Printing, That is) 3D printing has been around since the early 1980s, but over the last several years has gained widespread attention as costs have dropped and access to the technology has grown. While it is possible to surmise what areas of law may be most implicated by broad adoption of 3D printing, one can only guess how their application might shape the future of manufacturing. The ability to print materials at home at a nominal cost will almost certainly disrupt countless industries that earn money making and supplying many small products. These manufacturers will naturally turn to the intellectual property laws to protect their businesses. At the same time, Congress and federal agencies concerned with consumer safety will be forced to draft new regulations – most immediately in the area of printing firearms – to set certain standards and limits on how far the technology may be used. Intellectual  Property  Law  &  3D  Prin5ng Patent Current patent and copyright laws will undoubtedly be implicated by 3D printing. Inventors who have developed a novel and useful process, idea or design may seek patent protection from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A patent holder can restrict others not only from selling or using their patented invention, but also from manufacturing it. This means that consumers printing a replacement wheel for their bicycle could be liable to the bicycle manufacturer if the manufacturer holds a patent for the wheels. Copyright   Copyright law protects original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. This means that the author of any expressive work – such as a writing, photograph, painting or song – can stop others from copying the work. Copyright law has already been heavily tested by the rise of the Internet, which has allowed for cheap, instantaneous digital copying of many types copyrighted works. Most notable is the copying and distribution of musical works over peer-to-peer networks and file sharing protocols. Unlike the Internet, what one does on their 3D printer at home would not necessarily be tied to a user’s Internet Protocol (IP) address. This means that any copyright infringement would truly be undertaken anonymously. In contrast to a conventional home printer, individuals would be able to print copyrighted material directly onto consumable goods. Trade  Secrets What about 3D printing schematics not subject to patent protection? Even these may be protected under trade secret laws. A trade secret is a concept, design or idea that obtains independent economic value from not being generally known to the public. Of course, as soon as a trade secret schematic gets out on the Internet, the chance of a business reeling it back in is low, and its public distribution would eliminate any trade secret protection. Moreover, a big gap in current intellectual property protection exists where a business has devised an invention, distributed it in streams of commerce, but not yet obtained patent protection. If the invention is then reverse engineered by competitors, the inventor has no recourse. This is because independent invention or reverse engineering is a complete defense to most states’ trade secret laws. With the ability to manufacture many iterations of a device at very low cost, the time it takes to reverse engineer basic products could be significantly shorter. A  GAMA  Byte  produced  by  Brandon  Wiebe                                                                                                                                    ©  2013.  Gagnier  Margossian  LLP.    All  rights  reserved.  
  2. 2. A  Problem  of  Enforceability While patent, trademark and trade secrets laws could prohibit many uses of 3D printers, the lack of any foreseeable way to identify and enforce these infringements may render intellectual property protection futile. The almost undetectable nature of home printing would make enforcement extremely difficult. As with music file sharing cases of the early 2000s, manufacturers will likely have to target websites that are distributing 3D printing instructions, rather than the individuals doing the printing themselves. Consumer  Safety 3D  Printed  Firearms Consumer safety related to homemade products represents the other major concern likely to shape laws and regulations. The most obvious concern is the 3D printed firearm, which would allow gun owners to circumvent numerous gun laws – such as background checks – and to potentially print all plastic guns incapable of detection at airports and other security checkpoints. With no 3D printing regulations on the books, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has sought to leverage an old gun law – The Undetectable Firearms Act – as a stopgap measure to prohibit home manufacture of plastic guns that could skirt metal detectors. Senator Schumer, along with Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), intends to renew the Act this term, though the law only provides punitive measures for individuals caught with a weapon, and does not include provisions to limit the spread of undetectable guns. Home  Appliances  &  Other  Products   Guns may not be the only printable product that should worry regulators. Consumer protection regulations were drafted with major manufacturers in mind. How is the FTC to adapt its policies and practices to protect an individual who 3D prints his own toaster? Or how should the Department of Transportation respond to an automobile accident caused by someone’s 3D printed brake pads? Ultimately legislators, government agencies and courts will be required to tease out the rules around 3D printing, both from an intellectual property and a consumer safety perspective. Both businesses and consumers should stay tuned as the impacts of these decisions will have considerable repercussions on the future of our laws and our economy. For  more  informa5on  or  guidance  on  complying  with  relevant  laws  applying  to  3D  prin5ng  or  just  to  chat,   contact  an  aBorney  at  Gagnier  Margossian  LLP. Internet Intellectual Property Privacy Social Media Technology The Good Stuff #nerdlawyers Los Angeles Sacramento T: 415.766.4591 F: 909.972.1639 E: consult@gamallp.com gamallp.com @gamallp San Francisco

×