Revolutionizing Manufacturing; the Law and 3D Printing

By Afshein “Ash” Ghezelbash

The revolution in manufacturing is here. Undoubtedly, 3D printing is fast, cheap, and will revolutionize the way we manufacture objects. In essence, 3D printing is a process in which raw material is layered into three-dimensional shapes. Common applications include toys, footwear, jewelry, kitchenware, architecture, engineering and construction, automotive, aerospace, dental and medical devices. Even human organs today are being constructed from scratch using 3D printers. But this is just the beginning of how 3D printing can change the way we conduct business. The technology is available, but companies and organizations around the world have yet to discover the full potential of 3D printing. With that said, the question for future users of 3D printing remains the same: who can regulate what should and should not be printed?

Printing a non-static piece has become very easy. A 3D printer uses CAD designs to extrude thin threads of material, such as plastic, into layers that add up to precisely shaped 3D objects. 3D printers are extremely accurate; the machine practically produces the commands it receives with close to perfect precision. Literally, millions of people can download the software to produce 3D printed objects. Thus, the amount of files is so large that anyone who wants a design can download one. It is very easy to find a file on the internet and send it to your 3D printer.

However, 3D printers are often subtly different. Thus, if a user gets a design file from another user, it may require modification to print correctly. A user can adjust or modify printing settings to eventually create the intended object. Blueprints and designs are available through open-source websites.

Without regulations, 3D printing creates potential problems with infringement and ethical concerns because of how quickly and easily designs can be distributed. Companies and patent holders are at risk of being infringed.  Not everyone is comfortable that the ability to print such a vast array of products can come so easy to users who seek out this technology. Soon enough individuals will be able to generate their own digital data sets on PCs and print products using their own personal printers. This capability could make enforcing patents very difficult for patent holders. Now, in addition to protecting their physical product, companies should also beware of digital infringement as well. Without proper preemptive measures, 3D printing stands to revolutionize existing economic models which depend on artificial scarcity, intellectual property, copyright, patentable objects, and regulation from all aspects. On one hand, transferring and uploading 3D printing files has become incredibly easy for those who seek to find them. But on the other hand, it has become very difficult for the government to enforce restrictions, resulting in an increase in digital infringement.

Industries, especially healthcare, medical devices, biochemical, manufacturing, and technology, are all susceptible to the possible outburst of a limitless world of 3D printing. It is time that the USPTO take careful consideration of the impact this technology can have. Companies and industries can be completely taken out of business without proactive action from a government regulatory standpoint. The time is now. Particularly in certain fields, including but not limited to biotechnology and life sciences, developers of this technology should consider the implications of 3D printing and seek different ways to protect technologies and products. Also, the government should establish laws to quickly take down infringing 3D files and place injunctions on those infringing on protected technologies.

Any opinions expressed are opinions of the author and don’t express the views of Stein IP LLC.

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