3D printing will absolutely bring us technological advance and increased comfort, but as with many advances also a bunch of legal difficulties tend to arise. With production possibilities of almost any object imaginable, what legal implications will this have? And how can intellectual property be protected and how will it affect you as a consumer and user of 3D printers?
One of the ideas behind 3D printing is to give people the opportunity to make their own ideas into an actuality. Always wanted to create your own accessories and start a (web)shop on a small scale without having to go to China to let them assemble it? 3D printing makes it possible.
This has a drawback for designs produced by others and the fear also exists that in some cases designs might be illegally replicated. 3D printing is a technology that raises a lot of intellectual property issues.
At the moment there are no intellectual property protection laws that completely protect physical objects. Although there are some legal steps that can be taken in a situation where a product is counterfeited, none will actually protect the mold or shape of a physical object, like a product.
Copyright vs. Trademark
Designs are not protected by copyright law, however certain designers have a great desire to change this. A copyright often automatically gives the creator of an original work the exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited period of time. In most parts of the world the default length of copyright is the life of the creator plus either 50 or 70 years. In the United States, the term for most existing works is a fixed number of years after the date of creation or publication, at the moment about 105 years. This literally gives the creator or his heirs ‘the right to copy’.
Since it is not illegal to copy the overall design of a purse, for example, you are not necessarily carrying an illegal fake if it looks like a famous Hermes, it may simply be a clever reproduction. However, if you’ve purchased a bag with a ‘Louis Vuitton’ logo or with ‘Hermes’ engraved on the zipper, and you’ve paid much less than the normal market price, it is most likely counterfeit.
Trademarks protect names and therefore any logos on an object, designs protect the look of the object, patents protect how things work, and copyright might protect artistic patterns, but does not cover the actual physical object or the idea it expresses.
Another problem is that 3D printing does not just allow objects to be replicated, but also to modify objects before printing. It will therefore have a large impact on our existing intellectual property laws.