3D printing from a legal perspective

For the first time a NFL player has used a 3D printed equipment on field. Carolina Panthers All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis was able to take the field on SuperBowl 50 with the help of a 3D printed brace. The brace was engineered by WhiteClouds within just eight hours after receiving a scan of Davis’ forearm. It was printed out of a composite blend of plastic and rubber materials that fit best to stabilize the arm, but still make it flexible enough to absorb any impact. 3D printing offers many opportunities, not only for medical devices. There has been a massive growth in the range of materials. It is even possible to print beloved Italian pasta. 3D printers are moving towards mainstream with costs decreasing and usability improving. In January Adobe added 3D printing support to Photoshop CC which led to an significant boost. It is not unlikely that 3D printers may repeat the 1980 success of the home computer as they are affordable and fast.
3D printing is going to revolutionize the market but it also leads to new legal issues especially in the areas of intellectual property and product liability. The same types of intellectual property issues that have haunted music and movie industry are about to crop up in a lot broader size. All needed to copy an object are an electronic schematic of the product and a 3D printer. This allows almost everyone to reproduce a lot of different designs, putting at risk the violation of design rights. 3D printed replicas might also be protected under copyright, trademark and patent law. A legal challenge certainly is how to deal with these matters to prevent piracy and to learn from the near-disastrous effect of copyright infringements on the music industry. For right holders it might be an option to follow the example of the music and film industries and develop new platforms that offer 3D schemes for reasonable price.
Certain types of products, e.g. drugs, knives and guns, are subject to a strict certification under applicable law. Who is liable if someone forges his own item at home and gets seriously injured during the manufacturing process? According to product liability regulations the manufacturer as entity is liable for damages arising through the usage of products. The question arises how to determine the manufacturer when the customer is the actual manufacturer. It could be the owner of the printer, the manufacturer of the printer or the person who actually created or used the untested product. In 1980s, VCR players manufactured by Sony allowed people to copy television shows. The Supreme Court ruled on Sony v. Betamax in 1984 that Sony was not liable for potential copyright infringements. On the other hand, Napster was shut down for contributory copyright infringement regardless of the fact that the actual copying was done by its users and not Napster. Courts will have to decide depending on the circumstances of the particular case. For sellers of 3D printers it is advisable to have contractual provisions in place which shift liability for infringement from the contractor to the assignor.
Current regulations have to be reviewed by governments and legal offices to ensure that the technical revolution is not getting knocked of its tracks. 3D printing is often described ‘disruptive’. A term that applies.
Best regards
und viele Grüße aus Charlotte
Reinhard von Hennigs