Tech Law

Cyberlaw Predictions: Bye Bye Ikea as a 3D Printer is printed by a 3D Printer.

By Mark Leiser |

December 31, 2013 | 7 min read

A very loose collection of cyberlaw predictions for 2014. More social media lunacy. The cloud gets a whole lot larger. The Internet starts to erase itself, much to Google’s chagrin. Facebook implodes. For the first time in the history of 3D printing, a 3D printer gets printed by a 3D printer. Everyone locks everything on the Internet down. Legal challenges to Cameron’s porn filters. The Daily Mail continues to advocate for the blocking of every offensive website, except its. Intellectual Property lawyers continue sending letters demanding things be removed from the Internet, highlighting their complete misunderstanding of the Streisand effect.

#7: A 3D Printer is printed by a 3D Printer.

2014 will be the Year of the 3D printer. We have already seen the device become usable in countless industrial applications. Guns are being reproduced by means of 3D printer terrifying an already nervous gun-shocked America. Auto manufacturers are set to build an entire industry out of making replacement parts for cars via 3D printing.

“Need a new windshield wiper? No problem. Let me just print one for you. What make and model”?

3D Printing is making a digital replica of an three dimensional product out of composite goods by printing layers in certain shapes in order to achieve virtually any shape. It has become used as part of the distributed manufacturing process in almost all commercial engineering sectors and even in the biotech industry. According to Wohlers Associates, the market for 3D printers and services was worth $2.2 billion worldwide in 2012, up 29 per cent from 2011. So what is the difference about 2014? 3D Printing goes to the Main Street. Already one study has already seen open source 3D printing as a mass market item because domestic 3D printers can offset their capital costs by enabling consumers to avoid costs associated with purchasing common household objects.

With household printers already down in price to between £500 and £1000, I would expect that an ambitious young couple somewhere will make it big distributing their own designs. Think Pinterst comes alive!

And who will benefit? A whole new industry created out of the homes of stay-at-home-mums-and-dads all over the country. Who could be out of business? Ikea. Because large warehousing is not going to be needed when the material can be stored out back or underground in large containers. With virtually anything now able to be printed, virtually any object can be reproduced - from household items to exact replicas of Stradivarius violins. Which is why large retailers better get their fingers out and embrace 3D printing and fast. With designs available online, the item can be produced for the cost of the raw materials. There simply is going to be a wave of innovation and design via 3D printing. It’s inevitable. Think about how easy it was for the music industry to kill itself by not embracing the new technology available via the Internet. And that was just instant duplications of already existing products. Now imagine everyone is a producer and has the potential to be a designer. Mass design collaboration and infinite reproduction. 3D designs already have their own section on The Pirate Bay. The download details the design elements of what is to be reproduced by the printer. Once the scan of the parts has taken place, the design can be reproduced indefinitely and downloaded to the 3D printer which uses composites to reproduce an exact duplicate of the item.

Which brings us to the problem of online piracy. 3D printing has four major legal implications. A 3D printed item taken from a design scheme downloaded from the Internet. There are four major possible legal implications. Design rights; copyright; trademark and patent. Design protection protects the appearance of items, especially commercial products that might not otherwise be protected by patent or copyright law. Design protection may apply to relatively simple products, to components of more complex ones, or to the overall appearance of such “complex products”.

The Registered Designs Act 1949 provides that registration of a product protects its “appearance of the whole or a part of a product resulting from the features of, in particular, the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture or materials of the product or its ornamentation” where a “product” is either an industrial or handicraft item. There are also limits on what can be granted design protection. For example, a component part of a complex product may only be protected as a registered design if it is both visible to the user in ordinary use and is of novel and individual design. Features of a product dictated solely by technical functionality may not be protected by registered design. And finally registration may be denied if “features of appearance of a product which must necessarily be reproduced in their exact form and dimensions so as to permit the product in which the design is incorporated or to which it is applied to be mechanically connected to, or placed in, around or against, another product so that either product may perform its function”

As a result of these exceptions, many of the items people will want to reproduce will not be protected by design rights. Spare parts for cars are likely going to be considered as exempt under the ‘technical fit’ or ‘must fit’ exemptions. Even where a registered design is copied via a 3D printer this would not be an infringement if it were done “privately and for purposes which are not commercial”. This means people producing items for their own use in the house will be spared infringement charges.

And this is how 3D printing is going create a new industry and undoubtedly an interesting time for legal eagles like myself. Imagine going over to a friends house who has peppered the entire house with designer, yet 3D printed, home wares. This is the potential that 3D printing has.

2014 will be a good time to be a design lawyer.

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