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3D printing is everywhere at the moment. It is not exactly a new technology (engineers and designers have been using 3D printing for over a decade) but recently, there has been an explosion of activity across almost every industry.

It has given people a powerful new tool for design and production. For those of us who are not familiar with the process, a 3D printer operates on the basis of instructions provided from a computer in the form of electronic files which then translate into a 3 dimensional object straight from the printer itself. This rapidly developing technology has opened up the possibility of eliminating the need for traditional production processes such as moulding, casting and machining.

And almost anything can be created by a 3D printer now. This Christmas, you can print your very own (edible) Christmas cookies, create personalised Christmas jumpers for your lego figurines or print new decorations for your tree. The materials that can be used range from plastic to wood to cookie dough, meaning that the possibilities for the use of 3D printers are endless.

The benefits of 3D printing are clear – just look at the recent creation from the charity, WaterisLife. Using 3D printers, the charity has mass produced what they call the ‘Drinkable Book’ which is made up of filter paper which can be used to make safe, drinking water for those in need in 3rd world countries.

With the benefits, inevitably there are challenges. The advancement in technology, the greater accessibility of the equipment and software required and the plummeting costs, all make 3D printing easily accessible to anyone dealing in counterfeit goods and the replication of fake products. This poses a direct threat to rights holders of existing Intellectual Property (IP). If you are concerned that your products might be at risk from counterfeiters using this new technology, seek professional legal advice about how best to protect your business.

From a more positive perspective, if you are an entrepreneur looking to commercially exploit the opportunities presented by the new technology, what should you be aware of from a legal perspective? The IP rights that may exist in your products are:

  • Copyright
  • Patents
  • Trade marks
  • Unregistered designs and
  • registered designs

It is important to be aware of the potential within your 3D creation as this will determine how you can protect it and very importantly, how you can exploit it commercially.  As a rights-holder, you should be pro-active and vigilant and take measures to ensure that your rights are adequately protected.

Our top tips:

  • Wherever possible, ensure registrations are obtained for all key trade marks and designs for your 3D products, in the territories in which you operate (or intend to operate).
  • Make sure you have appropriate licence agreements in place where you wish to share any Computer Aided Design files with others.
  • Ensure that any trade marks that appear on your 3D products are accompanied by © (if registered) or ™ (if unregistered).
  • Ensure your terms and conditions or website terms of use contain clear statements on IP right ownership, including your 3D prints.
  • Remain vigilant and adopt a strategy that covers the protection of your IP rights and counter-infringement measures.

For further advice tailored to your business, please contact Antony Hall, Partner and Head of the Commercial team on 0191 281 6151 or email ahall@mincoffs.co.uk.

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