3D Printing Faces Legal Blocks Years Before Mass Consumer Use


Is the next big thing dead before it had a chance to take off?

Imagine you are at home and one of these situations arises: you break your last coffee mug and need to go to the store for a new one; you love that jacket on Project Runway and want it immediately. In a world with 3D printing you would be able to create these pieces in the comfort of your own home from your personal printer. This world of personal 3D printing was just around the corner, until last week, when a patent application was accepted by the USPTO that essentially blocks the use of 3D printing for reproduction of almost anything.

These 3D printers are “machines that build physical objects bit by bit, layer by layer—similar to how inkjet printers lay down colors on a piece of paper, but in three dimensions”. These machines can build almost anything, from bikes and bike parts to food and weapons. The endless possibilities are what the patent holders want to prevent.

The patent, filed in 2007, preemptively halts owners of 3D printers from producing copyrighted products. This patent was filed because many believe that 3D printing will have a gigantic impact — for better or worse — on technology, much the same way that the Internet changed music. The filers of the patent want to prevent what happened in the music industry with file sharing from happening in the 3D printing arena.

However, some have criticized the patent because the filers are not printer’s inventors, but a company that trades in patent rights — patent trolls — simply looking to profit. The company is using Digital Rights Management (DRM) to enforce limited access to the technology.

And the United States is not the only place where there are going to be legal hurdles for 3D printers. British legal experts have cited multiple legal issues with 3D printing that also will apply in the US. Such as, liability for printed products like helmets or the possibly complex negotiations needed to get the correct licenses to print an already existing copyrighted product.

The future of the 3D printing industry seems to be on uncertain grounds. But if the issues with 3D printing parallels the issues of file sharing that hit the music industry, shouldn’t we be able to preemptively create solutions instead of blockages? There are already numerous sites where 3D printer users can share files to create and customize already existing products. So why not create a Spotify pay-per-month system that will pay rights holders for the 3D printer files?

What are your thoughts on 3D printing and the recent patent? Would you want a 3D printer?

To get a better understanding of how 3D printing works, check out this TED talk.

About Kira O'Connor

Kira graduated from of U.C. Berkeley with a degree Mass Communications and Media Studies and will graduate from the University of Oregon School of Law in May 2012. Kira has worked in entertainment and media since high school, and during college she worked at Universal Music Group and the Cal Berkeley television station. In law school, her focus has been on sports, entertainment, and intellectual property law. When her face isn’t buried in case law, she enjoys triathlons, adoring baby animals, and taking jumping pictures. Follow her on Twitter @kiraoconnor
Posted in: Consumer, IP, Law, Technology