3D printing law is a collective term for the areas of law that are likely to be impacted by the technology of the moment – 3D printing. Already 3D printers have been used to make customised prosthetic limbs, surgical implants, pills, machinery parts, weapons, replicas of museum specimens and artifacts. But what is 3D printing? And what areas of law are impacted by this technology? Is 3D printing illegal?
Intellectual Property Issues–One of the key issues in this area is copyright and design rights. In order to print a 3D object, you need an electronic plan (or design) of the object and a 3D printer, which means anyone with these tools can produce exact copies of an object. This might create a flourishing black market of essentially counterfeited items which would jeopardise many people’s intellectual property rights. Additionally, the use of 3D printers could also severely erode the monopoly of patent holders.
Product liability–3D printing has already been used to make guns. What happens if a private citizen downloads a design file for the gun, prints it, and fires it and the gun misfires due to mechanical problems and the user is harmed in the process. Who is liable for this product defect? The electronic design distributor? The maker of the printer? Do consumer protection principles apply or does there need to be 3D printing law for product liability?
Investment impact–Small businesses and startups that are looking for investment in a product can use 3D printers to produce replicas of their product. These replicas can be extremely accurate and enable investors to see what they are going to invest in. This ability means that the risk of investment is decreased- fail fast, fail cheap.