3D Printing and Intellectual Property

Today was a big day for Netopia, our first ever live event in Brussels.

The topic was 3D printing technology, and its legal and policy consequences. The event featured a live 3D printer demo by maker network Realize, report presentation and speakers from the European Commission as well as think-tank ECIPE.

You can watch the video from the event below, and the report can be found here.

3D printing technology points to many challenges in terms of law and policy, not least in the field of intellectual property rights. Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman, authors of the book Fabricated (Wiley, 2013) write “Intellectual property law will be brought to its knees”.

One of the findings in Netopia’s report 3D Printing: Technology and Beyond is that the recent boom of low-cost personal 3D printers is to do with patents on this technology from the Eighties expiring, allowing other manufacturers to use these inventions. It seems those who would prefer more lax intellectual property law have a great case with the 3d-printers. However, the crux is that those patents are the reason this technology exists in the first place. The research behind 3D printing technology could be paid for thanks to the commercial exclusivity provided by the patents.

It seems that rather than a case against IPR, 3D printers are a good illustration of the way IPR is supposed to work. By introducing some restrictions on distribution, it is possible to make money from investment in research and development. Those who prefer different systems for IPR ought to explain how costly R&D should be financed in their vision.