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Monday, April 26, 2010

The Intellectual Property Implications of Low-Cost 3D Printing

1. Introduction

Throughout recorded history most people who have wanted a household article have bought or bartered it from someone else – in past times an artisan or trader, more recently a seller of mass-produced products. With few exceptions (such as some clothing) it is rare that any of us make such articles for ourselves these days. That may soon change. Thirty years ago only dedicated enthusiasts would print their own photographs or edit and reproduce their own newsletters. The advent of the home computer, and in particular of low-cost high-quality printers, has now made such things simple and commonplace. Recent developments in producing affordable and hobbyist-friendly printers that can reproduce three-dimensional rather than just flat objects may mean that printing a toast-rack or a comb becomes as easy as printing a birthday card.

Any lawyer familiar with copyright and trade mark law can see, however, that printing one’s own birthday cards could, depending on the source and nature of the images used, infringe a number of intellectual property (IP) rights. Tempting as it may be to copy and use a picture of a well-known cartoon character, the resulting cards would very likely be an infringement of the copyright and perhaps trade marks owned by the relevant rights holder. But what if someone uses a printer capable of producing a mobile phone cover bearing such an image? Or reproducing a distinctively-styled piece of kitchenware? What about printing out a spare wing-mirror mount for your car? Do these uses infringe IP rights?

In the first part of this paper, we review the history of 3D printing and describe recent developments, including a project initiated by one of the authors to bring such printers into the home. We then examine the IP implications of personal 3D printing with particular reference to the bundle of rights that would typically be associated with a product that might be copied.

2. Personal 3D Printing: The Technical Aspects of Home Manufacturing

2.1. A Brief History of Manufacturing

People have three ways to make solid objects:

  1. Cutting shapes out of a block of material;

  2. Adding material piecemeal to build up shapes; and

  3. Forming material that is liquid or plastic into the required shapes that then set.

All forming processes are secondary in the sense that the dies and moulds for them must initially be cut or built by one of the other two primary processes. Pre-industrial examples of these three are carving wood, bricklaying, and moulding a jelly.

Since the industrial revolution, an enormous number of variations on these three techniques have been developed and pre-industrial techniques have been much refined. Cutting and forming have, in particular, received a great deal of attention, resulting in sophisticated lathes and milling machines for cutting, and injection-moulding and die-casting machines for forming. 

Just after the Second World War, John Parsons invented the idea of numerical control.1 In this, a manufacturing machine has all its parameters and variables continually controlled by a computer, allowing a previously hand-controlled process to be completely automated. A typical numerically-controlled machine tool is a lathe or a mill that can produce a complicated-shaped part from a simple block entirely without human intervention. This idea has been called the Second Industrial Revolution, and - directly or indirectly – it is the basis of virtually every engineering product that is made and sold today.

Since the creation of the microcomputer in the late 1970s the cost of numerically-controlled machine tools has fallen dramatically and it is now possible for organizations of modest means (such as schools) and also private individuals in the developed world to own lightweight ones. However, the vast majority of all these machines - heavy and light - are still cutting machines, as opposed to additive or moulding machines.

Numerically-controlled cutting machines suffer from an inherent problem: given a computer model of a shape to be made, it is extremely difficult to compute the paths that the cutting tools have to follow in order to make that shape automatically. The more complicated the shape, the more difficult this problem becomes. Further, it is straightforward to design shapes that are perfectly valid three-dimensional objects but that cannot be cut out at all. Almost all these problems stem from the fact that the tool doing the cutting and the device attaching it to the machine must not strike any part of the object being cut except at the point where the actual cutting is happening.

2.2. 3D Printing

Until the late 1970s the alternative primary manufacturing idea - adding material - had received comparatively little attention (except in the electronics industry for chip manufacture, where it was, and still is, ubiquitous, if microscopic). But in 1974 a joke was written and in 1977 a patent was granted that caused that situation to change.

The joke was by David Jones, writing his column under the pen-name “Daedalus” in the New Scientist.2 He made what he imagined was a tongue-in-cheek proposal that one could shine a laser through a vat of liquid plastic monomer and cause it to solidify along the path of the beam. The photons of light might thereby be made to initiate the covalent cross-linking of the liquid monomer to form a solid polymer. He further proposed that, if the wavelengths were adjusted appropriately, the cross-linking could be made to happen only where two beams intersected, resulting in an intense spot of energy at one point, and that - by computer-controlled mirror deflection - that intense point could be made to trace out the volume of a required solid object.

The patent was granted in 1977 to Wyn Kelly Swainson for essentially the same idea, though he had originally filed the patent well before the appearance of Jones’s piece.3 In Swainson’s system the laser caused covalent cross-linking at the surface of the liquid monomer and the object being manufactured rested on a tray that was gradually lowered into the vat.

This was the start of the 3D printing industry, which engineers sometimes call the rapid prototyping industry. (The latter term has become less current over the last few years – the field is evolving rapidly.) It was called “rapid” because one-offs could be made much more easily and quickly using it than by conventional numerically-controlled machining and it was called “prototyping” because it was too slow and expensive to be used for production (it could not compete with injection moulding for making many copies of a single item, for example).

The primary reason that 3D printing technology was (and is) so easy to use was that it completely eliminated the tool-path calculation problems of numerically-controlled cutting machines. Because parts are built up layer by layer, there is always a flat-topped surface with unrestricted access for the laser (or other solidifying or depositing device) to gain access to build upon. This makes it very simple to write a computer programme to control the machine from a computer model of the shape required. There are other advantages (and disadvantages) to 3D printing, but this is the most significant one.

Although it is typically slightly less accurate than cutting, 3D printing is capable of manufacturing more complicated and intricate shapes than any other primary manufacturing technology. Most 3D printing technologies work using plastics but technologies such as selective sintering of metal granules have allowed the printing of metal shapes4 and there are systems that can work with ceramics.5

2.3. Home 3D Printing

At the time of writing, the lowest-cost conventionally-made and marketed 3D printing machine (the SD-300 made by Solido Ltd in Israel) was being retailed at about €12,000. Machines range in price from that up to around €300,000 and a typical mid-range machine might cost €40,000. In quick succession after Swainson’s patent, all the obviously possible ways of making objects by adding layers under automatic computer control were patented. Those early patents are now expiring but patents for newer 3D printing techniques continue to be issued.6

One of the technologies developed was fused-filament fabrication.7 This is essentially a computer-controlled glue gun. Molten plastic is extruded from a fine nozzle and laid down on a flat plate by scribbling with the nozzle to form the bottom layer of the object to be made. The plate then drops a small distance, and the next layer is added. Because the plastic is molten when it emerges from the nozzle the second layer welds to the first, and in this way complete three-dimensional solids can be built. This is a comparatively simple technology that requires no hard-to-make parts (such as a laser).

In 2004 Adrian Bowyer realised that 3D printing was such a versatile technology that it ought to be possible to design a fused-filament fabrication 3D printing machine that could manufacture a significant fraction of its own parts.8 Conventional industry has little use for this idea: why sell a machine to your customers that means that they never need to come back to you to buy another, never need to buy spares, or even that allows them to go into production themselves in direct competition with you? But owning such a machine would have real advantages for people in general: anyone who had one could use it to make things, and could also make another such machine and give that to a friend. This is an interesting example of a failure of the market: such a self-replicating machine is an object that people would value, but that it is in no one’s interest to sell. For these reasons it was decided to make the machine and to give all its designs away free under the GNU General Public Licence on the web.9 This was the start of the RepRap project. RepRap is short for Replicating Rapid-prototyper.

RepRap has been a significant success, and is now in its second version (Figure 1).

Figure 1. RepRap Version II, “Mendel” The white part on the blue tray is a component of the machine itself. It was printed from the model depicted on the computer’s screen.

From the beginning RepRap was conceived as a machine that would be owned and used by people in the home to make things, as well as by industry. The cost of all the materials needed to make a RepRap is low - about €400 - bringing it well within the budget of individuals in the developed world (as well as small communities in the developing world). RepRap makes items at a slightly lower quality than the commercial machines do, but at about 1 per cent of the cost.

Any development or improvement of RepRap design, software or electronics arises out of its users’ own initiatives. There is no central institution giving directions: users themselves invest time and thought in the evolutionary process of RepRap design. If they inspire other users they can all team up and combine their efforts. Because of the lack of deadlines for developmental goals, progress is very wide ranging, but it is also admittedly slower than in industrial R&D departments. However, personal ambition to realise their own ideas for the project drives the progress of the users’ work. Involving users in product design by providing tool kits has become more important in recent times.10

The reactions of industry to RepRap have been twofold: the conventional 3D printing manufacturers have (to the best of the authors’ knowledge) ignored it, but there has been a flurry of garage start-ups (for example Bits from Bytes Ltd in Bristol and MakerBot Industries LLC in New York) making very low cost machines that are based on RepRap technology. There is also another significant open-source 3D printer: the Fab@Home machine, which was inspired by RepRap.11 Unlike RepRap, these machines do not copy themselves. They are however all able to make RepRap machines, as are almost all the large-scale commercial 3D printing machines. The asymmetry that this introduces into the population dynamics of 3D printing has not escaped us.

Many companies and organisations have bought these low-cost RepRap derivatives or have built RepRap machines, but by far the greatest majority of owners and users are private individuals. MakerBot runs a popular website ( where anyone may upload and download designs of a great range of items to be manufactured by 3D printers for free.

As technology has become more miniaturised, the possible functionality of a single product has massively increased. This is, of course, useful and space-saving. On the other hand these versatile devices can, because of their large functional content, be rather complicated to handle. This is not always in the interests of the customer, as seen in Cooper.12 Additionally, often not all the functions are used by customers.13 Home 3D printing technology provides a way of manufacturing customised objects which have precisely the features an individual user needs.

All this may be heading towards a world in which people do not buy consumer goods any more but instead download them from the web and print them themselves. They will be able to customise them at will and may avoid some of the environmental and monetary cost currently entrained by the (often global) physical transport of manufactured goods; indeed, work is in train to make RepRap run on home-recycled plastic which would further reduce such costs. In particular, the ability of a 3D printer to, in principle, print a copy of itself, and for both machines to print further copies and so on, suggests that the cost of 3D printing may rapidly fall to the point where it becomes a widely-available technology.

Of course, having many people making few items in the home, instead of few people making many items in factories, is against the idea of economies of scale. But economies of scale are not universal: in the past people took clothes to central laundries to have them washed; now people use their own washing machines. Today electricity is generated in 2 GW power stations tomorrow it may be generated by individual photovoltaics on everyone’s roofs. And industrial printing presses offer far greater economies of scale than the home inkjet printers mentioned in the first paragraph that are – for many types of printing – replacing them.

What might this 3D printer be useful for? Working just in plastic would limit it to producing items not requiring great strength or heat resistance, whilst the fabrication volume would preclude production of large objects (other than in parts). However, as mentioned above, there is a great deal of active research going on to extend the range of materials that these low-cost systems can work with. There are many potential applications.

  • Spare Parts. Many appliances require unique and often expensive spare parts. Often these are small, made of plastic and relatively simple design, and would be amenable to domestic fabrication. Examples familiar to the authors include door parts for washing machines,14 lids for food processors15 and camera lens accessories.16 Significantly, provision of third-party spares has led to many IP disputes.17

  • Craft and Hobby Items. Craft hobbies often require plastic moulds; as with appliance spares, these are often expensive but could be produced with a 3D printer.18 A 3D printer could equally produce items directly, such as model figures for war-gaming19 or specialist add-on parts for model-making.20

  • Educational Uses. School science teaching frequently requires small specialist components for demonstrating or conducting experiments.21

  • Unique Requirements. A 3D printer, allied with user-friendly design software, would allow the ready creation of bespoke items. The RepRap website cites the fabrication of a unique bracket to allow an MP3 player to be attached to the coin-holder in a car dashboard.22 Individually-tailored body-fitting items such as frames for glasses could be produced, an extension of the use of 3D printing to make tailored medical implants.23

  • Fashion Accessories. Existing 3D printing systems have been used to make jewellery.24 Personal 3D printers could add a new dimension (literally) to many forms of fashion art, and allow customisation of personal accessories.

Although discussion so far has assumed home use of low-cost 3D printers, they may appear first in commercial or educational settings such as copy bureaux or schools, just as photocopiers were more common in such venues before combined scanner/printers brought them into the home. These different forms of use are very significant as there are exemptions against infringement of some IP rights for personal or non-commercial use, but not in other circumstances.

3. Introduction to Intellectual Property Implications

Might, however, the promise of low-cost 3D printing be constrained by IP law? Surely, it might be thought, home 3D printing of household items might infringe such rights as copyright, design right, trade marks or patents? The second part of this article will examine such questions. To illustrate the legal issues in question it will consider a hypothetical manufacturer, Acme, which produces a range of goods. Acme’s products are protected by various IP rights, such as design right, copyright, patent and trade mark. A consumer, Bridget, owns various Acme products, but finds that additional items, or spares or accessories for the ones she already has, are expensive. Being a 3D printing enthusiast, she creates 3D designs for such items and uses her personal 3D printer to print them out. She also shares her designs over the Internet with Charlie, who downloads them and prints his own ersatz Acme products. What of Acme’s rights, if any, have Bridget and Charlie infringed?

Such questions have received surprisingly little attention. A comprehensive literature search for legal references to “3D printing”, “rapid prototyping” or related terms found few matches; one referred to the copyright in 3D printing reconstructions of archaeological finds25whilst another briefly noted 3D printing as facilitating the overseas manufacture of patented products.26 Even searching within 3D printing engineering journals found only one article considering the prospect of widespread Internet-enabled dissemination of design files,27 whilst the sole relevant UK case report concerned ownership of copyright in commissioned models; their production by 3D printing was entirely incidental.28 

3.1. Aim and Legal Assumptions

Sections 3 through 7 of this paper are a first attempt to fill this gap. Based on the LLM dissertation of one of the authors (SB) they aim, from the perspective of EC and UK IP law,29 to identify where widespread low-cost 3D printing may impinge on IP rights or where IP law may constrain its development. Perhaps surprisingly, under UK law it transpires that in the scenario presented Bridget and Charlie may not have infringed Acme’s IP rights. Purely personal use of 3D printing to make copies of household objects and spare parts does not infringe the IP rights that commonly protect such items, such as design protection, patents or trade marks. However, there are areas, such as the reproduction of artistic works, where IP rights such as copyright may be infringed. The advent of low-cost 3D printing may therefore pose challenges to several communities: manufacturers, who may be unable to enforce design protection against private users of 3D printing; artists, who may see a new forum for infringement of works previously difficult to copy, and users of low-cost 3D printing, who may face confusion as to what is legitimate and illegitimate use of the technology.

3.2. Intellectual Property Rights and 3D Printing

There are four main classes of IP rights that may be infringed by using a 3D printer, which may be divided into those which require registration and those which arise automatically (unregistered rights):

  1. Copyright is an unregistered right that protects mainly artistic and creative works.

  2. Design Protection exists in both registered and unregistered forms and protects the distinctive shape and appearance of items (in particular those that are mass-produced).

  3. Patent is a registered right that protects novel and innovative products such as mechanisms or pharmaceutical compounds.

  4. Registered Trade Marks serve to inform consumers of the origin (and by association, reputation) of goods.

English common law also provides the action of Passing Off against acts that might confuse customers as to the origin of goods.

This paper will briefly introduce each right and focus on the extent to which it may be infringed by use of a 3D printer and the potential legal defences for such infringement. More detailed discussion may be found in relevant educational and practioner texts, to which reference will be made as appropriate.30 These rights interact and overlap; in particular the interaction between design protection and copyright has been the subject of much judicial interpretation. It is therefore convenient to consider design protection first.

4. Design Protection

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”. In domestic law there are two main forms of design protection: registered design and unregistered design right (UDR). In the wider European context, registered designs may also be registered with the Community Design Register, whilst there is a short-duration unregistered Community design right (UCD). This discussion will concentrate on registered design (for which the domestic and Community provisions are now virtually identical) and UDR.

4.1. Registered Design

The Registered Designs Act 1949 (as amended) 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”31 where a “product” is any industrial or handicraft item.32 The requirements for the registration of designs (such as novelty and individual character) will not be examined in detail;33 however, some of the constraints on what may be registered are relevant to issues arising from 3D printing of spares or parts for repair of a product.

  • Component Parts. 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 (which excludes maintenance or repair) and is of novel and individual design.34 Many spare parts for cars or domestic appliances will be hidden in everyday use whilst many others, even if normally visible, may be of commonplace design, such as a pipe or washer.35

  • Designs Dictated by Technical Function. Features of a product dictated solely by technical functionality may not be protected by registered design.36 This constraint was considered by the ECJ in Philips v Remington37 where Colomer AG opined that protection would not be available where the design was the only way of achieving the required function. Cornish contrasts this with the decision of the House of Lords in Amp v Utilux38 under the previous UK legislation where it was held that whilst an electrical terminal could have been designed in various equally effective ways, all would have been dictated by technical function and so been unregistrable.39 (It would now be unregistrable as an invisible component part.)

  • Must Fit” Exception. A design or design element is not registrable if it comprises “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”.40 There has been little if any judicial consideration of this point, but by analogy with similar provisions for unregistered design right this provision will exclude many spares and accessories from protection if their shape is determined by the need to connect to or fit into or around another product.

The effect of these exemptions is that many items attractive for 3D printing will not be protected as registered designs. Many spare parts are likely to be components or fall under the “technical function” or “must fit” exemptions. The latter also applies to the shape of accessories and customisation items such as covers for mobile phones (but not, as noted below, to copyright artwork decorating them). Furthermore, even if a spare part escapes these exemptions and is protected as a registered design, such protection is not infringed by its use for “the repair of a complex product so as to restore its original appearance”.41 This would cover the 3D printing of a part such as a car wing panel that was normally visible and not wholly constrained in design by its function or fit, but which had to be replicated in order to maintain the vehicle’s original appearance.

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”.42 Both criteria must be met; it is insufficient that copying is not done for profit. Purely personal use of a 3D printer to make items will thus not infringe a registered design, so long as the purpose for which the item was made was genuinely non-commercial. In the introductory scenario therefore, even if Acme’s product is protected as a registered design, neither Bridget nor Charlie infringe that design by making a copy for personal use (although this may not be so if, say, Bridget makes an item for use in paid work from home). However, use in other settings, such as a repair shop, will have to avoid registered designs if it is not to infringe them, unless the “complex product repair” exemption applies. For non-private educational purposes, there is a “fair dealing” exemption,43 but this only applies where the use does not prejudice normal exploitation of the design,44 e.g. by substituting for purchase of the item itself. So if Charlie works in a school and uses Acme test-tube stands, if these are registered designs he could not legitimately 3D-print copies to avoid buying new ones from Acme.

4.2. Unregistered Design Right

UK UDR was introduced by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to help resolve anomalies in industrial design protection regarding the supply of third-party spare parts (especially for cars) that had culminated in the House of Lords decision in Leyland v Armstrong.45 UDR provides protection akin to registered design, but rather than requiring registration it arises automatically, as with copyright. Like copyright it is therefore only effective against actual copying.46 As an unregistered right its subsistence will be a question of law in each case.

UDR subsists in the shape and configuration of an item, but not its surface decoration or method or principle of construction.47 It also excludes features that are required for it to be “connected to, or placed in, around or against, another article so that either article may perform its function” or which “are dependent upon the appearance of another article of which the article is intended by the designer to form an integral part.”48 The “must fit” exception is similar to that for registered design, whilst the “must match” exception is analogous to the “repair of complex products” provision.

  • Originality. To qualify for UDR, a design must be original, defined as not being “commonplace in the design field in question at the time of its creation”.49 In Farmers Build v Carrier50 Mummery LJ noted:

The designs are “original” in the sense that they are the independent work of the designer of the TARGET machines: they have not been simply copied by him from the GASCOIGNE or SUDSTALL machine….Time, labour and skill, sufficient to attract copyright protection, were expended by Mr Hagan in originating the designs of the individual parts. Similarly, he originated the assembly or combination of those parts in the TARGET machine as a whole.

Laddie J’s remarks illustrate that UDR may subsist in individual parts of a design, the design as a whole, or both. Consequently, an allegedly infringing design may be analysed by being broken down into component parts, some of which may be held to infringe UDR whilst others do not. The meaning of “design field in question” was considered in Lambretta v Teddy Smith51 where Jacob LJ held it to be the range of designs with which the designer of the item in question would be familiar.

  • Method or Principle of Construction. In Rolawn v Turfmech52 Mann J summarised prior case law as indicating that this provision prevented UDR subsisting in what he described as abstract, generalised design concepts. Under Mann J’s interpretation aspects of design dictated solely by manufacturing technique or necessitated by sound engineering design will be likely to fall within it. As noted by the Court of Appeal in Landa & Hawa International v Azure53 this provision seeks to prevent a designer gaining a monopoly over a particular way of making a type of product.

  • Must Fit” Exception. The “must fit” exception for UDR has been the subject of considerable judicial consideration. InParker v Tidball,54 the disputed designs were for mobile phone cases, which had both to fit around the phones they were designed for and to allow access to keyboards and displays. Robert Englehart QC adopted the approach of breaking each design down into its components in order to assess whether each element’s design was commonplace and, if not, if it was constrained by the need to fit the phone or if alternatives would have been possible. In Dyson v Qualtex55 the exception was held to apply to those elements of spare parts that were shaped so as to allow them to conform with the product they were to be fitted to. The “must fit” exception has even been extended to designs that conform to parts of the human body, such as contact lenses in Ocular Sciences56 – although in Amoena v Trulife57 it was held that breast implants were not caught by this exemption, as they were too flexible to be considered “constrained” in their design.

  • Must Match” Exception. The “must match” exception is analogous to the “complex repair” provision for registered design. The example of a car wing panel illustrates it well, and has been cited as epitomising this provision, e.g. by Jacob LJ in Dyson v QualtexDyson concerned “pattern parts”, spares which replicated the appearance as well as function of the original manufacturer’s parts, in that case for vacuum cleaners. Jacob LJ distinguished between spares for cars, where matching overall appearance was paramount, and those for more mundane items – such as vacuum cleaners – where it was less so. Without clear Parliamentary intent to exclude spares from UDR altogether, he held that the “must match” exception applied only in the former instance.58

How, then, does UDR affect the use of 3D printers to make copies of items in which it might subsist? The operative phrase is “might subsist”, as being an unregistered right it will be for the owner of the original item’s design to assert UDR. The factors listed above will determine whether UDR subsists – potentially not if the item is a commonplace design or has a shape and configuration determined by the item it “must fit” onto or around.

For 3D printing of spares, the “must fit”, “principle of construction” and “original design” requirements mean that UDR is unlikely to subsist in items that are of mundane design (c.f. the example of pipes or washers noted earlier) or where shape is dictated by the need to fit against another element of a product or is necessary for proper operation. However, as emphasised in Dyson, UDR is by no means excluded for spares, and in particular closely-matching “pattern spares” may fall outside the “must match” exception if they are destined for products where appearance is not critical.

The “must fit” exception would also apply to items such as customised covers for mobile phones although, as was noted with in the discussion of registered designs, this would not cover the use of copyright artwork as surface decoration. But of the other forms of items attractive for copying with a 3D printer many, such as craft and hobby items, would be protected by UDR and so reproducing them may infringe it. Whether they would depends on the statutory exemptions.

For UDR there is no positive provision in CDPA 1988 corresponding to that in RDA 1949 allowing private, non-commercial reproduction of a registered design. Instead, s 226(1) provides that:

(1) The owner of design right in a design has the exclusive right to reproduce the design for commercial purposes—

(a) by making articles to that design, or

(b) by making a design document recording the design for the purpose of enabling such articles to be made.

On its construction s 226(1) implies that the exclusive right does not apply to non-commercial use. This interpretation is supported byCopinger and Skone James, which notes “it seems clear enough that…a person who (for example) makes articles to a design intending to use them domestically does not thereby infringe design right”.59 In the Acme scenario, neither Bridget nor Charlie infringes any UDR subsisting in Acme’s products by 3D printing copies for personal use.

The authors of Copinger dismiss the impact of this provision, commenting that “as a person is unlikely to make many articles with a view to non-commercial purposes, it should in practice create few problems.” This may be true even with personal 3D printers, but what might change is that many more people will be in the position to make such articles. Furthermore, and in contrast with the situation for registered designs, there is no requirement that non-commercial use also be private. Indeed, by confining infringement to commercial use, defined as making an article or design document with a view to selling or hiring it in the course of business,60 the legislation appears to make all non-commercial uses non-infringing. This would include use within educational establishments, or bureau services where a 3D printer is made available for members of the public to use. CPDA 1988 provides that authorising infringement (which, by analogy with copyright, includes permitting infringing activities) is itself primary infringement of design right.61 But this only extends as far as acts that are themselves infringing, which non-commercial use is not. This is a fine point, and it may be argued that if a charge is made for such a service (e.g. at a commercial copy bureau) then the article is actually being made for the purpose of sale; equally, a private school or commercial training centre may well be “commercial” in this sense. If no charge is made though, for instance in a publically-funded school or training centre, then there is seemingly neither infringement of design right or authorisation of such. Taking the example used earlier, if Acme’s test tube stands were protected only by UDR, Charlie could legitimately copy them for use at his school, but not for sale to others.

Genuine commercial use will still be caught by s 226(1). To avoid infringement, business users will have to confine 3D printing to items not protected by UDR (such as spares within the constraints noted above), or will have to licence the right to produce them. This may well be attractive if it allows dealers to avoid holding large stocks of diverse parts, instead 3D printing them on demand from manufacturer’s authorised patterns. As will be discussed below, sale of self-3D printed unofficial spares, even where not infringing UDR, may fall foul of trade mark and passing off law.

4.3. 3D Printers and Design Protection

In summary, the exemptions for personal and private reproduction of registered designs and the exclusion of non-commercial use from UDR protection mean that the domestic use of a personal 3D printer to reproduce an item will infringe neither registered nor unregistered design protection. Perhaps more surprisingly the exclusive right provided by UDR appears not to cover such public but non-commercial users as schools; subject to interpretation, it may not prevent use in a commercial reproduction bureau. Even for commercial use, many items that are attractive for 3D printing, such as spare parts, may be unregistrable as registered designs and excluded from protection by UDR.

Two further issues arise regarding design protection, however: rights in surface decoration of an item to be reproduced by a 3D printer and rights in the design file used by a 3D printer for reproducing an item. Both of these concern copyright, and so will be covered in the next section.

5. Copyright

Copyright is an unregistered right that arises automatically on creation to protect creative works. Different jurisdictions vary as to the works for which copyright can subsist, but they generally follow Art 2(1) of the Berne Convention,62 which provides that copyright shall be available for “literary and artistic works”, where this includes musical and dramatic works and 2D and 3D artistic works. In the UK, CDPA 1988 s 1(a) recognises four classes of work in which copyright can subsist: literary, dramatic, mu

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1 comment:

  1. Improvements in technology for 3d printers systems has today allowed a significant range of companies (not just CAD designers) to use different materials (often low cost) instead of plastic or metals. Rapid Protoype useage is in the future getting higher quality and better value for money.