3D printing enables users to create three-dimensional objects from a computer-driven digital model which can be created by Computer Aided Design software or by scanning an existing object. Designers are able to use 3D printing to quickly produce cost-effective prototypes in a huge variety of materials including plastic, metal, ceramics, glass and living tissue. Whilst this manufacturing process with such a wide range of applications provides exciting opportunities in sectors such as the motor, aerospace and medical industries, it also poses a significant threat to intellectual property rights.
This is revolutionary technology which, with a number of key patents due to expire this year, is likely to develop exponentially in years to come. Already, basic 3D printers cost £1,000 - £7,000 and it seems entirely possible that domestic 3D printers will become as prolific in households as inkjet printers, in the not too distant future.
A key concern for product manufacturers and retailers, will be the manufacture of items for personal use - consumers will have the ability to cheaply produce replica products at home rather than purchase the original item. Given the ‘private use’ defence to design right and patent infringement, where otherwise infringing acts are carried out for private, non-commercial purposes, this will also create unease amongst intellectual property rights owners. There is also the risk of counterfeit goods being produced, which may not meet the same safety requirements as the original product.
Obviously counterfeiting and intellectual property infringement are already commonplace, but 3D printing is going to make such activity much simpler and quicker. Intellectual property law needs to evolve to protect designers and manufacturers, as this technology develops and leaves a legal minefield in its wake.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.