Friday, September 20, 2013

Will 3D Printing Nuke IP Law?

photo: S zillayali

@dearrichblog: As #3dprinting goes mainstream how will it effect copyrights and intellectual rights? We're stoked. This is our first question to arrive via our twitter feed. It's got us almost as charged-up as the soon-to-be Kiwi victory at the America's Cup.
What's 3D printing? A 3D printer is essentially a device that can take a blueprint-style software file (.stl) and produce a physical object. The materials used to create the object vary -- from paper and plastic to liquid polymers. You can see how one works here.
Right, you had a question. We don't usually answer policy style questions (even those with a Twitter pedigree) ... so we'll just provide a summary of where things are at. If you're serious about tracking the intersection of 3D printing and the law, you're best served by bookmarking this blog which follows and anticipates the legal issues associated with 3D printing.
3D and patent law. Some people believe that  3D printing will do to patent law what digital music, films and books did to copyright law, that is, to decentralize the distribution of manufactured products so that everyone becomes a manufacturer (and potential infringer). But it's likely that most of the items being replicated are not protected under patent law. As this article points out, most functional objects are NOT subject to patent protection and you are free to replicate (including those already in the patent public domain). Further, patents, whether design or utility, have the shortest shelf life of intellectual property. So, the waiting period to copy devices is shorter than to copy most songs. For example, you can now copy Stephanie Kwolek's Kevlar patent (from 1974) but you won't be able to freely copy Irving Berlin's song White Christmas until 2035. In other words, as this article states, there are far fewer inventions protected by patent law than there are works protected by copyright law.
What about copyrights and trademarks? We expect that copyright and trademark owners (particularly makers of toys and merchandise), will take it on the financial chin. It's not hard to imagine a world of homemade Barbie dolls or self-produced license plate holders, and our guess is that's the kind of crap ... uh, stuff ... that will get produced at home once 3D printers trickle down in price to the masses. Some futurists like Ray Kurzweil believe that manufacturing industries will weather this storm, others like Jaron Lanier, see the effect (if not corrected) as slowing economic growth. Of course, the still unanswered question is whether 3D printers will be able to produce 3D printers.

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