EPRSauthor By / March 17, 2014

Legal aspects of 3D printing

Additive layer manufacturing, better known as 3D printing is a computer-driven manufacturing technology which makes it possible to “print” three-dimensional…

© chesky / Fotolia

Additive layer manufacturing, better known as 3D printing is a computer-driven manufacturing technology which makes it possible to “print” three-dimensional objects. The fundamental difference between this technology and its predecessors used in industry is the fact that a 3D printer does not have to carve material from a block, but it builds it up instead from a scratch through a deposition of successive layers of plastic or another material.

Legal aspects of 3D printing
© chesky / Fotolia

The technology dates back to the seventies and various manufacturers including medical, transport, and toy industries have increasingly used it. This is only recently however that it has begun to spread among private customers, as the growing industrial use has resulted in 3D printers becoming cheaper. It is already possible to have one at home and several online platforms have emerged making it possible for individual creators and consumers to share ideas and designs or have their own creation produced.

3D printing has already raised concerns with respect to firearms control − the new technology makes it possible for people with no technical expertise to produce firearms (“3D-printed guns”) at home.

Moreover, the new technology is likely to have serious implications for the existing intellectual property (IP) regulations, if not lead to an overhaul of fundamental IP concepts in the three major areas of IP (copyright, patents and trademarks). The discussion over a copyright claim which followed the publication of a video explaining how to create the so-called “Penrose triangle” on a digital-design-file-sharing website has clearly shown that conflicts over the IP rights are bound to emerge.

So far the legal aspects of additive layer manufacturing have been discussed mainly in the United States. Therefore most academic texts referenced below are related to American law. Many of them are however to a large extent universal, as they analyse the general principles of intellectual property.


Assessing copyright protection and infringement issues involved with 3D printing and scanning / Haritha Dasari, AIPLA Quarterly Journal, Spring 2013, 32 p.
The article presents technical aspects of 3D printing and explores a whole variety of copyright issues raised by digital models and 3D products.

It will be awesome if they don’t screw it up: 3D printing / Michal Weinberg, public knowledge, November 2010
The author describes the 3D printing process and moves on to elaborate on its disruptive nature for industrial sector. He analyses how industries affected will react to imminent changes this technology will bring.

What’s the Deal with copyright and 3D printing? / Michael Weinberg, public knowledge, January 2013, 23 p.
The author begins with some comments on assumptions made on digital creations enjoying automatic protection by copyright and other forms of intellectual property (IP). He analyses how 3D printing affects existing copyright, patent and trademark laws, explaining basic elements of these three forms of protection with a focus on copyright. A detailed explanation of the severability test (useful vs. creative features of an object) is provided, followed by an analysis of the copyright protection of the file and the object in the 3D printing process.

Of PhDs, Pirates, and the Public: Three-Dimensional Printing Technology and the Arts / Lucas Osborn, Texas A & M Law Review, Spring 14, 2014, 31p. You have to click on Download and than login (for free) to read the complete article.
In the author’s view, the combination of 3D printing, 3D scanning, and the internet will break down the dividing line between the physical and the digital worlds, as well as bringing millions of lay people into direct contact with the whole range of IP laws. The article focuses on three-dimensional art, analysing ways in which 3D printing will affect its creation, delivery, and consumption. It also deals with piracy issues likely to emerge.

Printing the impossible triangle: the copyright implications of three-dimensional printing / Brian Rideout, Journal of Business, Entrepreneurship and the Law, 2011, 19 p.
see especially ” IV. The World’s First 3D Printed Design DMCA Takedown Notice.”
The author reflects on how a digital copyright infringement can impact on the physical world when it comes to 3D printing. The world’s first Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice for a 3D printed object has been presented and analysed, including the validity of the complaint, as well as its ramifications for the open source 3D printing community.

The next Napster? Copyright questions as 3D printing comes of age : The digital revolution made it simple to digitize and share media; the 3D / Peter Hanna, arstechnica , 06.04 2011.
The article starts with a description of the Penrose Triangle “case” whereby a Netherlands-based designer named Ulrich Schwanitz sent a takedown notice to a company having published a design which allegedly infringed his copyright. It analyses technical and legal aspects of 3D printing.


Patents, Meet Napster: 3D Printing and the Digitization of Things / Deven R Desai & Gerard N Magliocca, School of Law Research Paper No. 2013-37, 2013, 57 p.
You have to click on Download and than login (for free) to read the complete article.
Claiming that 3D printing is a “technology that will do for physical objects what MP3 files did for music”, the author draws a parallel between discussions around peer-to-peer file sharing internet services, like Napster, and intellectual property issues to be brought about by 3D printing. He inquires about how the long established legal doctrine and commercial practices will need to be rethought and how the American Congress will have to reshape the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to regulate the activities of websites hosting 3D printing software.

Asserting patents to combat infringement via 3D printing: it’s no “use” / Daniel Harris Brean, Fordham Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Law Journal, Spring 2013, 37 p.
The author analyses the existing theories and specific provisions of patent law to conclude that in its current form patent law is “unprepared for the fundamental shift in physical product sales and distribution that will likely occur as 3D printing by consumers becomes more widespread”. He makes an attempt at rethinking how products could be protected through patents and copyright in the Digital Age.

Downloading infringement: patent law as a roadblock to the 3D printing revolution / Davis Doherty, Harvard Journal of Law & Technology, Fall 2012, 18 p.
The article sets the current debate on 3D printing in the context of the rise and fall of Napster and Grokster and consequences it had for consumers, as well as the emergence of other services which came to reshape the way the internet was used. The experience thus gathered should, in the author’s view serve as a lesson in addressing the upcoming 3D printing revolution, making it possible to proactively fix the system.

The challenges of 3D printing to the repair-reconstruction doctrine in patent law, 16th Annual Antitrust Symposium, January 17, 2013, George Mason Law Review, Summer, 2013, Vol. 20, Issue 4, p. 1147-1182.
The author reflects on a challenge that 3D printing poses for the US patent law doctrine of repair-reconstruction which differentiates between permissible repair and infringing reconstruction.

Clive Thompson on 3-D Printing’s Legal Morass / Clive Thompson, wired.com, May 2012.
Mr Thomas Valenty posted some files for free downloading on a site for sharing instructions on how to print 3-D objects. This led to a takedown request from the producer of Warhammer-style figurines reproduced by Valenty and served as a basis for a wider discussion on legal battles to come as the new technology is gaining ground.

Trademark protection

“The clone wars”: episode 1 – the rise of 3D  printing and its implications for intellectual property law – learning lessons from the past? / Dr Dinusha Mendis, European Intellectual Property Review, Vol. 35, Issue 3, p. 155-169.
Click on “skip” to read the article.
The article assesses how the UK legislation in force could be applied to the new technology and whether IP norms adequately protect manufacturers of 3D products. It also reflects on lessons to be learnt from the entertainment industry’s response to IP infringements and on possible new business models.

The Intellectual Property Implications of Low-Cost 3D Printing / S. Bradshaw, A. Bowyer and P. Haufe, (2010) 7:1 SCRIPTed 5, approx. 27 p.
The article provides a summary of the history of 3D printing and gives a detailed description of its technical aspects. The implications of personal 3D printing for various forms of IP (including industrial designs) are then presented.


“Guns, Sex, and Freedom” / David Dubin, Social Science Research Network (SSRN), 12.12.2013, 27 p. You have to click on Download and than login (for free) to read the complete article.
The article focuses on two social issues likely to test the boundaries of property rights: 3D guns and child sex robots. It presents the historical development of 3D guns and related regulations, as well as a market analysis of the social robotic industry. The author also reflects on the need for legislative action.

3D Printers, Obsolete Firearm Supply Controls, and the Right to Build Self-Defense Weapons under Heller / Peter Jensen-Haxel, Golden Gate University Law Review, Vol. 42, Issue 3, May 2012, pp. 447-496.
A possibility to 3D-print arms at home has been discussed in the context of the District of Columbia v. Heller − a landmark case whereby the US Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment to the US Constitution protected an individual’s right to possess a firearm for lawful purposes including self-defence.

How to Make Almost Anything: The Digital Fabrication Revolution / Neil Gershenfeld, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 91, Issue 6, November/December 2012, pp. 43-57.
The text reflects on how the “digital fabrication revolution” will change the way we all live, work, learn and play. The problem of 3D guns has been dealt with briefly.

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament Firearms and the internal security of the EU: protecting citizens and disrupting illegal trafficking, COM(2013)0716, 21/10/2013
3D printing of weapons and ammunition has been mentioned in the communication.

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