IP in 3D Printing

There have been a few articles recently on the growing importance of 3d printing or additive manufacturing. An early, important discussion is that of Kevin Carson on distributed manufacturing, “The Homebrew Industrial Revolution.”  The New York Times and The Economist, Wired and next month I hear Fortune will add its perspective. At the same time, there have been discussions of the problems 3d printing presents for intellectual property. A good article from the UK takes up a number of these issues from the perspective of the user of a 3d printer. An article in the US, from Michael Weinberg at Public Knowledge, worries IP and regulatory concerns. An article by Peter Hanna at Ars Technica makes note of a copyright take-down notice for a design made available for 3d printing, which has elicited a range of further comments, including this one from Eric de Bruijn.

Much of the present effort involving IP has been directed at the idea of replicating existing objects and worrying whether if those objects are protected by patents whether folks will be exposed to infringement claims.   Further, will digital designs for such objects run afoul of copyright?   These are important issues.   They run to the nature of a public domain for works that are not authored (but use authoring resources such as digital design and software) and are not invented (but may use invented stuff).  Should existing IP law expand to take these in by analogy?  Or should there be a public domain (on the model of open source software and open hardware architectures)?   Generally IP law has been expanding to eliminate the public domain, by adding new subject matter, extending the term of protection (especially for copyright), removing formalities (such as copyright notice and registration), and allowing the growth of adhesion contracts (in the form of “End User Licenses”) to circumvent first sale exhaustion and eliminate fair use rights.   It appears that folks are intent on completing a pattern in which everything that gets made is owned as IP as well as chattel.   The question then is:  Is this a good thing for innovation?

Beyond the replication issue, there is a more fundamental issue and that involves IP in the  innovation in 3d printing methods, materials, and machines.   In particular, what roles should university researchers take, especially in light of university administrative fixation on ownership of IP and commercialization models that emphasize exclusive licenses and the exclusion of local and research practice?

To be continued…

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