Legal issues with 3D printing for private and business

This brief overview of legal issues with 3D print­ing tech­nolo­gies is intend­ed to pro­vide a short glimpse for pri­vate users and busi­ness­es. For those who want to get into the detail of the top­ic, we rec­om­mend the books “Socio-Legal Aspects of the 3D Print­ing Rev­o­lu­tion” and “3D Print­ing, Intel­lec­tu­al Prop­er­ty and Inno­va­tion”.

Legal issues with 3D printing for home users

In gen­er­al, as a pri­vate user you do not wor­ry as much as busi­ness or self-employed mak­ers have as legal issues most­ly arise from busi­ness activ­i­ties (out­put for mon­ey). For this rea­son, there are only minor prob­lems when giv­ing 3D print­ed objects to friends and fam­i­ly with regards to intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty or trade­mark rights.

How­ev­er, there is a legal prob­lem that pri­vate users should be aware of. There can be legal con­se­quences if you print spare parts for e.g. cars and func­tion­al 3D objects for exam­ple. In case of an acci­dent, insur­ances and man­u­fac­tur­ers wills always rea­son that your spare parts led to the event even if this is not true. There­fore, restrict your­self to cos­met­ic replace­ment parts for your own safe­ty and pock­ets.

Legal issues with 3D printing for businesses

As described, all mak­ers should be care­ful from the moment mon­ey is involved and you offer ser­vices to gain prof­its. In order to proac­tive­ly pro­tect them­selves, many 3D print­ing ser­vice providers start­ed ask­ing their cus­tomers to sign state­ment. Clients declare that they own all rights of the dig­i­tal object which is nec­es­sary for repli­ca­tion. These state­ments some­times even include para­graphs stat­ing that clients bear all the risks in case of legal issues with 3D Print­ing.

In addi­tion to this pos­si­bil­i­ty, all entre­pre­neurs should be aware that 3D print­ed and com­put­er designed objects in the CAD pro­gram, like all oth­er prod­ucts, are sub­ject to qual­i­ty guide­lines.

Trademark and patent rights

All 3‑dimensional objects may not infringe any trade­marks and patent rights of oth­er com­pa­nies as well as objects. 3D print­ed objects are dif­fi­cult to patent per se, but it depends on the terms of nov­el­ty, inven­tive­ness and indus­tri­al applic­a­bil­i­ty.

3D print­ing leads to an entire­ly new set of issues with trade­marks and patents as coun­ter­feit goods are dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish from the orig­i­nal. This is espe­cial­ly true for 3D prod­ucts that will increase over the com­ing years. In addi­tion, fake prod­ucts are no longer nec­es­sary to be smug­gled across inter­na­tion­al bor­ders, instead you can print it direct­ly at the des­ti­na­tion.

The most dif­fi­cult chal­lenge for com­pa­nies will be the trace­abil­i­ty of orig­i­nal prod­ucts e.g. via ser­i­al num­bers. Imag­ine a car acci­dent due to a fake prod­uct with low qual­i­ty com­pared to your orig­i­nal spare-parts. In Such cas­es, you as a man­u­fac­tur­er might have to prove that this exact part is not from your com­pa­ny, but was rather a fake repli­ca.

Biggest legal problems due to 3D printing

Prob­a­bly the biggest prob­lem for reg­u­la­tors is the com­plex­i­ty of the val­ue chain and cir­cum­stances of the man­u­fac­tur­ing process­es. At this point, the prod­uct lia­bil­i­ty law comes into play which dif­fer­en­ti­ates between man­u­fac­tur­ers and qua­si-man­u­fac­tur­ers. The lat­ter is some­one who after the man­u­fac­tur­ing process by a third par­ty sticks his name/logo on top and thus appears as the man­u­fac­tur­er. In addi­tion to this dis­tinc­tion, com­plex sit­u­a­tions arise due to the vari­ety of par­tic­i­pa­tions as importers, sup­pli­ers, design­ers, plat­forms, 3D print­er man­u­fac­tur­ers, soft­ware pro­gram­mers and many more. This com­plex­i­ty leads to extreme­ly dif­fi­cult judg­ments in the case of a law suit, because object errors will like­ly result from a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors.

Summary of legal challenges through 3D printing

In prin­ci­ple, pri­vate indi­vid­u­als will hard­ly have to face any legal con­se­quences with their hob­bies, but they should still appre­ci­ate and respect the intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty of oth­er peo­ple. Legal prob­lems caused by 3D print­ing, how­ev­er, most­ly affect com­pa­nies as vic­tims in the area of ​​prod­uct pira­cy due to the tech­no­log­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties. Com­pa­nies need to be aware of their own respon­si­bil­i­ties using the tech­nol­o­gy as well as poten­tial threats.

Please be aware that this is not legal advice, we just sum­ma­rized key points from the books to pro­vide an overview. Feel free to con­tact us in the com­ment sec­tion below or via our con­tact form, in case you have any ques­tions

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