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