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Who Will Be Liable For 3D Printed Products?

3D printing is a new technological marvel making headlines across the web. In essence, 3D printing is the creation of an object in reality from a digital file. Computer software creates a 3D model, which a person scans and uploads to a printer. The printer then generates the file in reality. For example, a team at Delft University of Technology created a bike simply from uploading a digital file to a printer and having the printer manufacture the bike.

The traditional manufacturer-supplier-retailer-consumer chain is directly under threat with this new technology. With 3D printing, the consumer is the manufacturer! This method of creation will begin to open up new avenues for litigation and necessitates a precedent be set by courts around the world. Who takes responsibility for the products? Is the maker of the printer, or the consumer who produced the product, at fault? Perhaps more importantly, who owns the intellectual property of 3D printed objects?

Licensing Software to Avoid Copyright Infringement

One interesting area of law that will weigh heavily on 3D printing is the licensing of 3D designs to protect copyright. If I am a designer of handbags, what is to stop tech-savvy pirates from getting their hands on my designs and distributing them around the web? A potential defense against this issue will be selling the protection of licenses to retailers online.

For example, suppose I sell the license to download my handbag design to a retailer who then resells the file to consumers with printers. Consumers can then download the file and print the bag at home. This economic setup, however, further blurs the lines for product liability. Issues that might arise include:

  • Will the owners of printers need to be fully trained and licensed?
  • Will buying a printer necessitate new areas of 3D printing insurance?
  • Will manufacturers and retailers need to evaluate to whom they sell, much like modern insurance companies do for their policies?
  • Can a company be at fault for a consumer who prints a product improperly? If so, how do you prove this case?
  • What should be the length of the statute of limitations on products be?

3D printing is set to change retail product distribution, wholesale manufacturing, the way we eat, the way we sleep, and the way people do business. No change this momentous will come without serious legal issues arising, especially in the case of product liability and intellectual property. If you have a similarly cutting edge invention that needs a patent, or if you have any other questions surrounding your intellectual property, a qualified Dallas intellectual property lawyer can help. Contact Gagnon, Peacock & Vereeke, P.C. at (214) 824-1414 to learn more about trade secrets, patent infringement, trademarks, and other cases we handle.