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Infringing IP in Your Home with 3-D Printing

January 19, 2016
Indiana Lawyer

If you have a solid gift-giving budget this season, and someone on your list has “maker” tendencies, you just might be putting your loved one on the bleeding edge of intellectual property with one of the newest technologies for creativity, invention, and (knowing or otherwise) infringement: 3-D printing. Some cultural segments may develop and thrive in a freely licensed, open-source-style community or one like what we see today in the “Creative Commons,” but until intellectual property owners and their lawyers figure out how to deal with 3-D printing hobbyists, and the maker community learns the applicable rules, we may see “interesting times” for those playing on this edge.

3-D printers put small-scale manufacturing capability in the hands of auto enthusiasts and local body shops. What are the risks for those who use this tool to make parts that look like original equipment, which might be protected by design patents, trademarks, and copyright?

Traditional intellectual property law clearly applies to common uses for 3-D printers. If one creates an original, three-dimensional work of art and prints it using a 3-D printer, the artist will own copyright in that “sculpture” and could register and enforce those rights just like the author of a book would. Similarly, if an individual 3-D prints an insulated cup with unique, nonfunctional (i.e., “ornamental”) features, he could file to protect those features with a design patent. And if an individual made a new and non-obvious device that solved an engineering problem, she could file to protect that invention with a utility patent.... 

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