The range of applications for 3D printed objects appears to be growing at an ever increasing rate. The medical industry now uses 3D printed for prosthetic limbs, while 3D printed organs are not far behind. No less important to some is the potential for 3D printed chocolate bars!
The IPO are aware of the growth in 3D printing technologies. With a growing industry that affects all IP rights, the IPO wanted to know what, if any, issues there are for the current IP system. To answer this, the research examined the legal and empirical position of 3D printing.
The research focuses on design files; the blueprint for 3D printed objects. It finds that the copyright status of design files is currently unclear. As a result, the authors recommend clearer guidance on the copyright implications for creating and modifying design files.
The research presents empirical analysis examining data extracted from 17 online platforms dedicated to the sharing of designs for 3D printing. The data covers 2008 to 2014, during which there were 48,715 different users on the online platforms sharing a total of 385,118 files.
The most interesting findings are:
- files that carry the label ‘fashion’ attract a higher number of views and downloads while labels such as ‘art’ and ‘robot’ are marketed at higher prices
- files bearing the tag ‘miniature’, ‘art’, and ‘jewellery’ are more prevalent on the online communities, perhaps an indication that hobby and leisure is one of the most attractive areas for these platforms
- the expansion of products, such as mobile software applications, that interact with 3D printing platforms provide the tools for the modification of CAD files
- higher views and downloads are also dependant on (a) the choice of the platform and (b) the type of brand/product. One example is iPhone-labelled files, which attract more downloads and views. This is an example of what can be achieved with the instrumental use of a popular brand/product. The more popular a product the more likely it is that people would look for something to complement it (e.g., a case, a decorative stand)
- number of downloads is apparently unrelated to the price. This could be due to a lack of accessibility to the relevant materials or lack of access to more sophisticated 3D printers; i.e., those that are capable of printing more expensive files
Finally, the research presents six case studies from businesses using 3D printing technologies. The case studies show that there is no immediate concern posed by the growth of industrial additive manufacturing (AM) or consumer 3D printing in relation to intellectual property. However, there is a need for the IPO to raise awareness, and educate on the IP implications of 3D printing. This is could be a disruptive technology and the Government will keep 3D printing under close scrutiny.
[Featured image by Creative Tools on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons]