3D scanners and printers and legal obstacles, theoretically speaking, oh my!

Here’s a bit of reading material now that 3D printers and scanners are inexpensive enough to ask Santa to give you one.

3-D Printing and Product Liability: Identifying the Obstacles [SSRN] by Nora Freeman Engstrom, Stanford Law School:

Abstract: Though just in its infancy, 3-D printing seems poised to transform the goods we buy, the products we use, and the world we inhabit. A question frequently raised about 3-D printing, though, is how product liability law will apply to 3-D-printed goods. Tackling that important and timely question, this Essay applies contemporary product liability law to defective products from home 3-D printers. The analysis reveals that if home 3-D printing really does take off, PL litigation as we know it may well, in large measure, dry up. And if it doesn’t, the technology threatens to unsettle the theoretical justification for product liability law’s development.

Patents, Meet Napster: 3D Printing and the Digitization of Things [SSRN] by Deven R. Desai, Thomas Jefferson School of Law and Gerard N. Magliocca, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law:

Abstract: Digitization has reached things. This shift promises to alter the business and legal landscape for a range of industries. Digitization has already disrupted copyright-based industries and laws. As cost barriers dropped, individuals engaged with copyrighted work as never before. The business-to-business models of industrial copyright faltered and in some cases failed. Industries had to reorganize, and claimed foundations for copyright had to be re-examined. This Article examines a prime example the next phase of digitization: 3D printing and it implications on intellectual property law and practice.

3D printing is a general-purpose technology that will do for physical objects what MP3 files did for music. The core patent bargain—sharing the plans on how to make something in exchange for exclusivity—may be meaningless in a world of digitized things. While these devices will unleash the creativity of producers and reduce costs for consumers, they will also make it far easier to infringe patents, copyrights, and trade dress. This will force firms to rethink their business practices and courts to reexamine not only patent doctrine but also long established doctrine in areas ranging from copyright merger to trademark post-sale confusion. Moreover, Congress will need to consider establishing some sort of infringement exemption for 3D printing in the home and expanding the notice-and takedown provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to websites that host software enabling the 3D printing of patented items and distinctive trade dress. While a 3D printer is not yet a common household item, the time to start thinking about that future is now.

See also Michael Weinberg’s 3D Printing, Matisse, and the Arbitrariness of Copyright Terms (Discusses how a 3D-ed scanned and replicated 1909 Matisse bronze relief is the public domain in the US, but is still protected by copyright in France.) and his earlier Public Knowledge Policy Blog post Will 3D Scanners Usher in a New Era of Copyright Infringement?

If someone starts freaking out about how 3D scanners will somehow mean the end of intellectual property as we know it, tell them to take a deep breath.  Sit them down.  Scan their face.  Turn it into a 3D printed mug and fill that mug with whatever liquid you think will best help them to relax.

Instead of a beer coffee mug or a Matisse bronze, I’m thinking about scanning and printing the last print volume of Ohio’s official reports to use as a door stop because TR Legal’s publishing contract has terminated. — Joe

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