Fresh off his last Tonight Show monologue, Jay Lento is scouring the vintage car dealers’ websites to find replacement wheel hubs for his antique BMW. Searching worldwide, he finds none. When his friend N. Gennyus mentions that he can make exact computer replicas with a 3D printer to create a cast to manufacture the vintage wheel hub, Jay wonders if it’s legal?
3D Printing – What is it?
Imagine organizing your closet by entering the measurements you want and printing the containers out right there rather than measuring the containers at a store to make sure they will work. Or, imagine building the diorama of a famous Civil War battle using the same printer to construct all the soldiers, cannons and trees in perfect detail. 3-D printing makes it easier and faster to produce complex objects with multiple moving parts and intricate design. How? By Additive manufacturing that includes 3-D printing and is the means of creating an object by adding material to the object layer by layer. Think of how dripping water creates layers and layers of mineral deposits accumulating over time to form stalagmites and stalactites. Although it adds hair-thin incremental layers, 3-D printing is much faster and follows a predetermined plan provided by computer software that directs new layers as a precise cross-section of the final object. Check out this video to see a 3D printer in action.
3D Printing may be the next, great disruptive technology to push innovation to the edge, to make creating new things easier and to allow collaboration to solve new problems – to do for physical objects what MP3 files did for music. Just as computers allow us to become movie producers, journalists, and songwriters, 3D printers allow everyone to become creators of things – inventors and sculptors. 3D printing merges the physical and the digital permitting collaborative design among people on opposite sides of the globe. Instead of purchasing one of a million identical objects built in a faraway factory, users can customize pre-designed objects and print each one separately at home, customizing it to their specific needs.
Of course, it also raises some interesting legal issues. As we have seen from the rise of the internet, the ability to easily create and share goes hand-in-hand with the ability to copy and distribute intellectual property. Copyright and patent rights, traced to the Constitution and protected to encourage creation and dissemination of creativity and knowledge, copyright, patent, and trademark are the three are the primary types of intellectual property impacted. Many, however, argue that patent and copyright laws will stifle the free flowing creativity and collaboration promoted by disruptive technology like 3D printing.
Hot Button? – 3D Guns
You may have heard about the Defense Distributed 3D printed gun demonstrated last year. The Texas-based group made parts for guns, then guns themselves, then fired a gun, then made plans for running up your own pistols on a nearby 3D printer creating a moral panic over 3D printing. There are two prevailing opinions on 3D printed guns: the apocalyptic, including politicos like New York State senator Steve Israel who’s already introduced legislation to ban 3D printed guns, and the nonchalant who point out that the 3D printed gun costs a small fortune to make, requires a highly specialized and even more expensive 3D printer to produce, is fragile and liable to self-destruct after a few rounds are fired, and is much more challenging and expensive to print than to purchase a gun on the black market.
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor
Knowing that expanding 3D printing technology may radically disrupt your industry and your competitive edge, it makes sense to stay abreast of the developing technology. IF you do experiment with 3D printing you should strongly consider getting the advice of a lawyer – and perhaps a patent and copyright lawyer – to explore your rights and your limitations. What you don’t know (and don’t investigate) can hurt you!