Intellectual Property Law

What will 3-D printing do to IP Law? Manufacturing? Product liability?

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Legal and technology analysts see a host of changes on the horizon as a result of 3-D printing technology.

Intellectual property “will be ignored and it will be impossible or impractical to enforce,” said John Hornick, a Washington, D.C.-based IP attorney with Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, at a 3-D printing conference in San Jose, Calif., Computerworld reported. “Everything will change when you can make anything.”

Hornick cited an example of a child using scanning technology to scan a favorite toy, load it into a computer-aided design file and then use a 3-D printer to duplicate the toy, since consumers can purchase their own 3-D printers to copy existing products.

Computerworld notes that as 3-D printing technology improves and the products it creates come closer to current industrial standards, the lower costs could bring manufacturing back to domestic shores to save on shipping costs. But some manufacturing jobs are bound to be replaced by the printers, which “can operate 24/7 in a lights-out factory.”

“Future sales may be of designs and not products,” Hornick said.

But what if a product’s design is found to be faulty? “Who would be legally responsible?” James Malackowski, CEO of IP consultancy Ocean Tomo, asked at the conference.

Perhaps there will be collaboration within the industry to set quality standards, he suggested. Or let the market decide, with bad designs dying for lack of consumer support.

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