3D Printing – Manufacturing Revolution or Intellectual Property Nightmare?
Three dimensional (“3D”) printing or “additive manufacturing” has the capability to revolutionize the process of product manufacturing and distribution. Similarly to how the industrial revolution resulted in machines replacing warehouse workers, 3D printing will replace the less efficient machinery currently used by manufacturers. 3D printing technology is advancing rapidly and is becoming increasingly more affordable to the average consumer. The speed and accuracy of 3D printers has risen sharply over the past few years and has already replaced more traditional manufacturing processes for some products.
While 3D printing promises to revolutionize the manufacturing industry, owners of intellectual property (“IP”) fear that the technology will destroy the value of their IP portfolios. The owners of trademarks, copyrights, patents, designs, and trade secrets are concerned that 3D printers will allow counterfeiters to easily reproduce their products without obtaining authorization. IP owners of digital works have already faced a similar problem in the past when peer-to-peer (“P2P”) sharing programs facilitated the unauthorized distribution of digital copies of works.
In this paper I will analyze what the effects of 3D printing will be on intellectual property and those who own it. First, I will discuss how 3D printing is accomplished and what its current and future capabilities are. Second, I will identify IP owners’ concerns regarding 3D printing. Lastly, I will discuss how current IP law may attempt to adjust to the effects of 3D printing on IP protection and how IP owners will try to preserve the value of their property.
II. 3D Printing Process
a. The Rise of 3D Printing
3D printing is currently used most frequently for creating prototypes of products that a manufacturer is interested in developing. About 70% of 3D printing is used for the purpose of creating a prototype for a product, rather than for its full scale production. 3D printing is ideal for this purpose because it allows a producer to use the same 3D printer to create prototypes of different parts. Without 3D printing a manufacturer would have to suffer the time and expense of building specialized machinery and different molds for each separate prototype.
While 3D printing is used mainly for prototypes, with recent advances in speed, accuracy, and strength of materials, 3D printing is becoming a more viable option for mass production as well. In fact, 3D printing is already being used to create a wide range of products such as hearing aids, dental implants, prosthetics, guns, chocolate, jewelry, the body of an automobile, and many others. There are several websites that anyone can access to order custom made 3D printed products.
3D printers are also becoming much more popular with individual consumers. The cost of personal 3D printers has declined dramatically, and as a result more individuals are purchasing them for home use. 3D printers such as the Cube by 3D Systems, the Cubex by Cubify Systems, or the Replicator 2X by Makerbot retail for between one and three thousand dollars. Additionally, independent crowd-funded inventors have entered the 3D printer market to compete with the larger companies, and one printer is currently being developed with an anticipated price tag of only $100. Because of increasing quality and decreasing cost, the market for 3D printers and services rose 29% in 2012 to $2.2 billion. Market experts like Wohler’s Associates anticipate that this number will grow to $3.7 billion by 2015 and by 2019 the figure will rise to $6.5 billion.
b. 3D Printing Methods
Several methods are currently used to accomplish 3D printing, including stereolithography (SLA), fused deposition modeling (FDM), and selective laser sintering (SLS). One thing all these methods have in common is that they use 3D digital models as the blueprints for the object to be printed. These digital models are usually in computer-aided-design (CAD) format. These CAD models must then be translated into a format that the 3D printers can read, one common example being Standard Tessellation Language (STL). How the printer transforms the digital model into a tangible object depends upon which type of 3D printing process is used.
3D printing’s roots trace back to 1984 when the process of stereolithography was invented by Charles Hull. Stereolithography was the first method of 3D printing to be invented, and is still commonly used. Before SLA can be used to print an object, the object’s CAD design must be “chopped” into many two dimensional slices. The printer will replicate one slice at a time and then bond the slices together to achieve the finished product. SLA works by concentrating an ultraviolet laser into a vat of special photosensitive resin. The printer focuses the UV beam according to the CAD design, and the resin hardens instantly once contacted by the laser. Once the beam has created the current slice of the object, an elevator in the vat lowers the object into the resin so that the next slice can be reproduced. This process repeats until the product is finished.
A second method of 3D printing is fused deposition modeling. Stratasys, the company founded by the inventor of the FDM process, explains how FDM works.
“3D printers that run on FDM Technology build parts layer-by-layer by heating thermoplastic material to a semi-liquid state and extruding it according to computer-controlled paths… Material filaments are fed from the 3D printer’s material bays to the print head, which moves in X and Y coordinates, depositing material to complete each layer before the base moves down the Z axis and the next layer begins.”
Selective laser sintering is a third method of 3D printing, and works similarly to SLA. Like SLA, SLS uses a vat of material, an elevator, and a UV beam. However, unlike SLA, SLS printers use vats filled with powdered materials instead of resin. When the powder is exposed to the laser beam the powder fuses (“sinters”) and bonds to the layer below it, building the object from the bottom up.
Other methods include PolyJet photopolymer, Syringe Extrusion, Selective Laser Melting (SLM), Electron Beam Melting (EBM), and Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM). Undoubtedly more methods will be developed in the future and will increase the manufacturing potential for 3D printing as a substitute for traditional assembly line production.
c. Advantages of 3D Printing
One thing all 3D printing methods have in common is that they are a form of “additive” as opposed to “subtractive” manufacturing. Whereas subtractive manufacturing involves carving away, drilling, or chiseling a larger piece of material, additive manufacturing is the process of adding material to an existing object.
One obvious advantage of additive manufacturing is that there is no wasted material leftover. The cost of wasted material can be substantial. For example, in the airplane part industry, the “parts have usually been machined from solid billets, which can result in 90% of the material being cut away. This swarf is no longer of any use for making aircraft.” 3D printing eliminates wasting material altogether, which has the additional beneficial effect of reducing energy costs incurred in dealing with the waste.
3D printers also have the capability of creating a single object that formerly would have had to have been assembled from multiple components. For example, Boeing has been using 3D printing to manufacture environmental control ducts (ECDs) for years.
“ECD traditionally requires the production and assembly of up to 20 different parts, but can be 3-D printed in one piece. ‘Additive Layer Manufacturing… is faster and more efficient to produce. It uses less raw material and produces parts which are lighter, more complex and stronger.’”
A third advantage of additive manufacturing is that very little human labor is involved. All a manufacturer needs is a CAD file, a 3D printer, and the right material. There is no longer a need to hire people to build, assemble, and transport multiple components because in many cases the end product could be produced on site in an automated fashion. Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer “sees 3D printing as part of the digital industrial revolution,” and explained that as a result of the revolution, “[w]hat we're seeing is a decline in the overall number of people required to do a job.” Plummer also provided an example, and “point[ed] to a company like Kodak, which once employed 130,000, versus Instagram's 13.”
A fourth important benefit of additive manufacturing is that it allows a manufacturer to produce prototypes more quickly than traditional methods. This allows the manufacturer to bring its product to the market sooner. In the past manufacturers had to wait weeks to create a prototype, and then much longer to design and build the machinery to mass-produce the finalized product. With 3D printing a company can make a prototype in a few hours, and can make necessary adjustments to the CAD design immediately. For example, Adidas, a shoe-making company, said that “3D printers had reduced the time it needed to evaluate a new prototype by four to six weeks to one or two days.” Nike, another shoe-making company, said that in the past it was only able to make a dramatic change to complex parts in its footwear once every two years, but with the aid of 3D printing they were able to evaluate and fully test 12 different prototypes in a span of six months and make “super dramatic improvements to our products.”
In summary, as the U.S. Department of Energy succinctly stated, “[a]dditive manufacturing has the potential to vastly accelerate innovation, compress supply chains, minimize materials and
energy usage, and reduce waste.”
III. Concerns of IP Owners
a. Value of IP
Intellectual property has an extraordinarily high value to many companies. The estimated value of Coca-Cola’s brand is $79.2 billion, and Google’s trademark alone is worth $44.3 billion. The value of a company’s IP portfolio can often be its most valuable asset. To protect their IP rights, companies rely on a combination of copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. While Intellectual property can be a vital asset, it is valueless unless the rights conferred by IP law are enforced, and unless infringement is detected then it cannot be enforced. As 3D printing becomes more widespread and cost-efficient, IP owners will find that detecting infringement and enforcing their rights will become increasingly more difficult and expensive. As a result, the value of their IP will decline, and could cause huge losses to companies that rely on their IP portfolio.
The threat of 3D printing to IP owners is substantial. Gartner, an information technology firm, predicted that by the year 2018 3D printing will cause a loss of at least $100 billion in global IP losses annually. Gartner explained that “The plummeting costs of 3D printers, scanners and 3D modelling technology, combined with improving capabilities, makes the technology for IP theft more accessible to would-be criminals.” Counterfeited and pirated products already cause $360 billion of loss to international trade annually. As 3D printing becomes more popular and affordable, the incidence of counterfeiting will increase, and as a result the value of IP will decrease due the difficulty in enforcing IP rights.
b. What’s the Harm?
3D printing presents two different problems to the manufacturers of goods. The first is that IP owners will have a difficult time detecting small-scale infringement, and even if infringement is detected, it may not be cost-efficient to commence legal action. The second problem is for manufacturers of goods whose value derives primarily from its innovative design, but where the design is not protected by IP laws.
The main concern for manufacturers that own IP is that 3D printing will result in an increase in counterfeit goods. While counterfeit goods are already a huge problem for IP owners, typically most counterfeiting activity is concentrated in a small number of counterfeiters. Because of this concentration IP owners have a high incentive to investigate and shut down the illegal operations because each counterfeiter they eliminate will prevent a large volume of counterfeit goods from entering the market. In contrast, 3D printing would allow consumers to create the counterfeits themselves, so pursuing a single consumer will be costly and would only remove one counterfeit good from the market. Suing an individual counterfeiter may still be worth it to the company if the company believes that by doing so it will deter an adequate number of future counterfeiters, however, the value of deterrence would need to be high to justify costly litigation over nominal damages.
If individuals acquire the capability of printing counterfeits from home, then special problems will arise for IP owners. While an average consumer may not find it practical to attempt to create a counterfeit by hand, if they can do so simply by downloading a design and printing it, the consumer is much more likely to create the counterfeit good. Detecting an individual consumer’s infringement would also be more difficult than a mass-producing counterfeiter. Unless the individual attempts to sell their self-made counterfeit, it will be nearly impossible for the counterfeiter to learn of the infringement. Typically counterfeiters are caught in the act of selling the counterfeits, but without a sale IP owners will not even be aware of the individual cases of infringement. Individuals are also less likely to be knowledgeable of the existence of IP, and therefore would not even know that what they are doing is illegal. While a consumer would undoubtedly realize that copying a Louis Vuitton handbag would be counterfeiting, that same consumer may not realize that by printing a generic kitchen appliance he is violating dozens of patents.
3D printing presents a different problem to those who manufacture goods that are capable of being protected by IP law, but who decide that obtaining protection is not worth the time or cost of doing so. An example of this kind of manufacturer is an individual who creates goods and sells them on websites like Etsy. While the product may be eligible for trademark or design patent protection, the cost of obtaining it may be prohibitive. Formerly small manufacturers depended on the fact that there would be too few buyers for the product to entice a counterfeiter to invest the time and effort to produce a counterfeit. However, if individuals can copy the item and print it from home then there is no disincentive to counterfeiting because the cost per unit of producing one is the same as the cost per unit of producing 1,000. The likely result would be analogous to a situation where an individual browses movies in an electronic store, sees a movie he likes, and then goes home and illegally downloads the movie for free.
c. Unauthorized CAD files - Analogy to Piracy of Digital Works
The threat of 3D printing to manufacturers of physical goods has many similarities to the threat of file-sharing services to the producers of digital works. Examining how file-sharing has affected the entertainment and software industries, and how those industries attempted to curtail the harmful effects of infringement could shed some light on how IP owners threatened by 3D printing will likely respond to the unauthorized sharing of CAD files containing IP.
Online file sharing was largely unknown until 1999 when a peer-to-peer sharing program called Napster was introduced.  Napster combined a music search system and a file sharing system that allowed users to connect with each other to share files online. The result was that digital works (e.g. music, movies, software applications) were reproduced without the copyright owner’s authorization. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), representing the copyright owners, obtained an injunction against Napster in 2001 which shut down the company.
Although Napster was eliminated, file-sharing activity continued to increase as individuals began using other P2P sharing services. Having failed to slow the pace of unauthorized file sharing, the RIAA implemented a new strategy. Beginning in 2003 the RIAA dramatically increased the number of copyright infringement lawsuits against individuals, hoping to deter P2P users from exchanging files. Despite the increased number of lawsuits, participation in P2P file sharing actually doubled between 2003 and 2005. The copyright owners represented by the RIAA began to resent the campaign against individuals because it was costing them millions in legal fees and was causing bad publicity, particularly from suits against minors. In 2008 the RIAA abandoned their campaign against individuals.
Despite declining album sales, the music industry has been able to generate revenue by selling authorized digital versions of songs through third party websites like Apple and Amazon. Apple is currently the largest music retailer in the world. Many individuals are willing to pay for the authorized versions of songs despite the fact that they could download them illegally. The authorized digital versions come with assurances of audio quality, no copyright infringement liability, and freedom from malware.
While the Napster situation primarily concerned music, other P2P sites have facilitated the same type of illegal file sharing for movies, software applications, and other digital works. The film industry, represented by the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA), observed the ineffectiveness of the RIAA’s anti-piracy scheme and decided to focus on technological access restrictions such as digital rights management (DRM) software to prevent the unauthorized reproduction of visual works. However, the effectiveness of DRM has proven to be severely limited because hackers find ways to bypass the DRM practically as soon as the work is released in digital form. To try to capture some lost revenue the film industry began licensing its works to online streaming websites like Netflix and Hulu, who raise funds through subscription fees and/or advertising. The film industry has also sold authorized digital versions of films through third party online distributors like Amazon and Apple. Similarly to buyers of authorized digital versions of songs, films sold through trusted third party distributors carry assurances of quality, non-infringement, and legality.
In the case of 3D printing, owners of IP will encounter the same problems as the RIAA and MPAA. An IP owner will try to prevent the unauthorized reproduction, and transmission of CAD files that would allow individuals to manufacture infringing objects. CAD files are just as easy to share as the songs or movies, and IP owners will have as much difficulty preventing file sharing as the RIAA and MPAA did. In fact, 3D printing presents an even more substantial problem to IP owners than that of the piracy of music and film. Even if IP owners could prevent all exchange of unauthorized CAD files, unlike songs, software, and movies, individuals can often easily create the CAD files themselves.
Recent advances in 3D scanning technology have made it easier and cheaper to create three dimensional digital models of objects than ever before. In fact, objects have already been printed using 3D models generated by an Xbox Kinect sensor, which retails at about $100. Unlike the music and film industries where creating the file from scratch is not a viable option, with 3D scanning a user can often easily generate the end product themselves (i.e. the CAD file).
IP owners are going to have an extremely difficult time curbing the creation and distribution of unauthorized 3D models embodying their IP. Attempts to sue the individual infringers will be excessively costly, and would likely fail as an effective deterrent as was the case with the music industry. Additionally, attempts to place DRM protections on authorized versions of the CAD files may be ineffective for the same reasons it failed for the film industry.
d. Indirect Infringement
The difficulties of suing the direct infringers (i.e. those actually printing the infringing objects) have been discussed, but IP owners threatened by 3D printing may be able to sue the makers of the 3D printers for indirect infringement. Indirect infringement allows the owner of a copyright, trademark, or patent to sue a party who “actively induced, encouraged or materially contributed to the infringing activity.” A plaintiff can also prevail against in indirect infringer on the theory of vicarious liability if the defendant “has the right and ability to supervise the infringing activity and also has a direct financial interest in such activities.”
However, IP owners may have a difficult time succeeding in indirect infringement allegations against the makers of 3D printers because of the holding in the Supreme Court case Sony Corp. of Am. v. Universal City Studios, Inc. The general rule laid out in Sony is that “the sale of copying equipment, like the sale of other articles of commerce, does not constitute contributory infringement if the product is widely used for legitimate, unobjectionable purposes.” In Sony the plaintiffs were the owners of the rights to various films. The defendant, Sony, was the manufacturer of a device capable of recording films playing on television. Universal argued that Sony should be held liable for contributory infringement because it sold the recording devices with knowledge that it would be used to infringe copyrights. Sony argued that the device could also be used for legitimate purposes, such as to record a program that one couldn’t watch live for the purpose of watching it at a later time (i.e. time-shifting purposes). The Court accepted Sony’s argument and declared that recording for time-shifting purposes was a fair use. The Court then held that because the device could be used for substantial legitimate purposes, the defendant could not be held liable.
The holding in Sony was limited by a future Supreme Court decision, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., where the Court held that if the defendant provided a copying device with the intent that it be used to violate IP rights, or if the defendant promotes the ability of the device to infringe, then the defendant may be liable for contributory infringement. In Grokster the plaintiff owned the copyrights of works that were being downloaded on a P2P file sharing program maintained by the defendant. The defendant argued that its program allowed the sharing of both non-infringing and infringing works, and therefore they could not be held liable under the rule from Sony. The Court disagreed, and held that in this case when the defendants distributed the software “each one clearly voiced the objective that recipients use it to download copyrighted works, and each took active steps to encourage infringement.” Because the defendants actively promoted the product’s ability to infringe IP rights, and because infringement actually occurred as a result, the Court held that the defendants were not protected by the Sony rule.
The manufacturers of 3D printers are more analogous to Sony than to the defendants in Grokster. It’s undisputable that 3D printers are capable of substantial non-infringing use. In fact, 3D printers are capable of more non-infringing uses than the television recorder in Sony. The recorder in Sony had one function, and that was to reproduce existing material, most of which was protected by copyright law. It was only because the fair use exception to copyright could possibly apply in some cases, that Sony was held not liable. 3D printers are capable of not only copying existing objects, many of which aren’t protected by any IP rights at all, but they can also be used to create new and original creations. In normal circumstances it is highly unlikely that the maker of a 3D printer could be found to be a contributory infringer.
However, in special circumstances a 3D printer manufacturer could be held liable as a contributory infringer. For example, if the manufacturer of a 3D printer expresses an intent to promote an infringing use of the printer, then he could be held liable under Grokster. IP owners could also have a case for contributory infringement if the 3D printer manufacturer tries to entice people to buy the printer by advertising its ability to reproduce specific objects protected by IP.
IP owners could also have a case for vicarious liability against the manufacturers of 3D printers if the manufacturer sells the printer and continues to provide services to a party it knows is infringing. This could occur, for example, if the 3D printer manufacturer continues to provide the resin or other 3D printer “ink” to the infringer despite knowledge that the customer’s use of the printer is infringing.
IV. Recourse for IP Owners?
3D printing clearly presents a massive threat to the owners of IP, but is there any way for owners to protect their IP portfolio? There is no clear answer or simple solution to that question, however, there are a number of strategies IP owners can employ to try to limit the loss of value of their intellectual property.
First, IP owners could turn to Congress and lobby for special laws regarding 3D printing. There are a variety of ways that Congress could attempt to prevent or at least deter a substantial amount of 3D printing infringement.
One way would be to impose harsh punishments on those who are guilty of printing infringing objects. This is the method the RIAA primarily relied upon during their 2003-2008 copyright lawsuit campaign and, as was previously discussed, proved to be more costly than it was worth. However, it is possible that if this strategy was employed as part of a more comprehensive plan then the deterrent value could be increased. For example, the RIAA’s campaign may have served as more of a deterrent if there had been greater availability of authorized substitutes. Some call this strategy the “carrot and stick approach,” with authorized versions of the product as the carrot, and harsh punishment of infringement as the stick. The music industry initially resisted the option to purchase one song off of an album, forcing consumers to purchase the entire album instead. Consumers who may have been willing to pay two dollars for one song may not be willing to pay $15 for the album. Some would-be purchasers will simply not buy the album, but others may seek unauthorized versions even though they would have rather just paid two dollars for the peace of mind of obtaining the song legally.
Another way Congress could attempt to curb 3D printing infringement would be to require individuals to obtain a 3D printing license prior to owning or operating a 3D printer. Requiring a license would help limit the distribution of 3D printers and could help facilitate IP law education. If an IP law training session was required as a prerequisite to obtaining a 3D printing license, it could help reduce unintentional infringement. The 3D printing license could be revoked for any IP infringement violation, including non-3D printing incidents, which would help withdraw access to 3D printing from those most likely to infringe intellectual property rights. The major problem with a 3D licensing regime is that it may run contrary to the purpose of IP, which is to create an incentive to innovate and to facilitate economic growth. If Congress interferes with an individual’s ability to utilize 3D printing it could result in fewer original creations and prevent potentially valuable non-infringing works from being developed. A licensing scheme would also be difficult to enforce because an individual without a license could simply give the CAD file to someone with a license and have them print the object for them. On the other hand, the risk of losing their own license may deter licensees from participating in these sorts of under the table schemes.
While owners of intellectual property would like for Congress to help protect their IP portfolios, Congress is notoriously slow at adapting to technological innovation. IP owners should consider what they can do within the framework of existing law and technology to protect the value of their property, and be quick to adapt their method for monetizing their IP portfolio. The music industry initially refused to adapt to consumer demand for digital single tracks, and the likely result was to increase pirating and decrease revenue for copyright owners. IP owners should be wary of suffering the same fate, and may need to consider altering their business models to conform to consumer demand.
One strategy manufacturers could utilize would be to sell authorized CAD blueprints for their products. The attempts of the RIAA and MPAA to protect their traditional distribution methods were unsuccessful, and authorized digital versions of works proved to be the most effective way to retain as much value in the copyrights as possible. This strategy may be even more successful for IP owners threatened by 3D printing than it was for the RIAA and MPAA. P2P users who downloaded unauthorized copyrighted files were more concerned about downloading a virus than they were about being prosecuted for infringement. Not only will P2P users who download unauthorized CAD files need to worry about viruses, they will also have to deal with the possibility that the file is defective and will result in an inferior or defective product. This could be a major concern for products that would pose a safety risk if defective. Also, if a user downloads a defective song or movie, they haven’t actually incurred any cost and can keep downloading files until they find one that works. On the other hand, if an individual downloads a defective CAD file, they will not learn of the defects until they have finished printing the object. By the time the individual realizes that the product is defective, he will have already suffered the cost of the materials. Authorized CAD files, like authorized digital songs and movies, come with assurances of quality, so purchasers would not have to worry about wasting time and money on defective blueprints.
One additional strategy to entice consumers to purchase authorized CAD files would be to include other benefits with the file. IP owners could include services like customer support, repairs, and future updates with the CAD file. Manufacturers could also choose to only offer additional services if consumers purchase the finished product (as opposed to only the blueprints). The film industry currently uses this strategy to sell DVDs. Film companies will license the movie to rental companies, but will only include additional features like commentary or extra scenes in the version of the DVD that is sold by retailers. This strategy allows film companies to price discriminate and capture more of the market for films. Consumers who have a slight interest in the movie will pay to rent the film, but avid fans will be willing to pay the additional cost to purchase the full version. IP owners could use this model to persuade consumers to choose the authentic products over 3D printed counterfeits.
Another way IP owners could gain an edge over counterfeiters would be to follow the fashion industry and rely on constant innovation. Fashion designs are not usually protected by any IP laws, however the fashion industry thrives because of the brief duration of each style’s popularity. The original designer captures all of the sales of the fashion product until counterfeiters have time to manufacture the knockoffs. If an IP owner is constantly upgrading and updating its products, then counterfeiters will have a difficult time providing equally attractive products. The problem with this approach is that not all products are capable of constant innovation. An additional problem is that, unlike the traditional manufacture of counterfeit fashion items, counterfeit CAD files can be transmitted without delay.
IP owners could also try to embed authentication devices into their products to help identify which products are authentic and which are counterfeits. Researchers are already working on techniques to identify legitimate products. For example, researchers at Virginia Tech University are working on “embedding quantum dots into 3-D printed material,” which would allow IP owners who suspect counterfeiting to easily determine whether the object is infringing. Such identification methods would greatly reduce the cost of litigation for IP owners because it would be practically irrefutable evidence that the particular object at issue is a counterfeit. Similarly, IP owners could negotiate with the makers of 3D printers to require that the printers contain authentication methods or devices. The film industry has already accomplished this, and DRM is built into all DVD and Blu-Ray players. One possible solution would be to require that 3D printers connect to an online database. As IP owners discover unauthorized and infringing CAD files, they could upload the files to the database. Before the 3D printer can start the printing process, it would compare the uploaded CAD file with the online database to detect if it matches a known infringing file. However, depending on the number of infringing files detected and the size of the files, this system could prove too unwieldy to be practicable. Additionally, creative hackers can always find ways around technological access barriers.
Another strategy IP owners could use would be to launch a public education program. Most individuals are not knowledgeable about IP infringement, and simply informing them of the basics of what constitutes legal and illegal 3D printing could reduce the amount of infringement. Even if IP owners cannot force Congress to adopt a licensing system that would educate potential licensees, the IP owners can accomplish that task themselves. The entertainment industry and the U.S. Government has already adopted this strategy. Many Americans are particularly sympathetic towards manufacturing employees, and emphasizing the harm to American manufacturers resulting from infringing 3D printing could be an effective way to reduce the amount of counterfeiting by individuals.
3D printing presents possibly the biggest threat to IP owners since development of the internet and P2P file sharing programs. Intellectual property can be a company’s biggest asset, and there is an enormous amount at stake for IP owners. On the other hand, 3D printing also has many benefits, and has the potential to revolutionize the manufacturing industry. The rapid advancement of 3D printing creates exciting prospects for the future of manufacturing, as well as legitimate concerns for the potential victims of counterfeiting. Congress will need to balance the beneficial and harmful effects of 3D printing and develop a policy that encourages the creation of new and original products, while protecting intellectual property’s incentive to innovate. IP owners need to be ready for the 3D printing revolution and have strategies already implemented to help slow counterfeiting. IP owners also need to come to terms with the reality that they may need to drastically alter their business and distribution methods to retain as much of the market as possible. While IP owners are sure to be affected by 3D printing, a combination of Congressional action, technological access barriers, active IP enforcement, and public awareness could prove to be effective safeguards for the value of intellectual property.
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