4 November 2015

Legal aspects of 3d printing

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Living tomorrow. 3D printing — a tool to empower the European economy’

The impact of Additive Manufacturing on legal issues (17):

– AM today is widely understood (by the media, press, public and politicians) to be a low-end 3D printing technology for smart ‘home printing’, rather than a future production technology. Although both will hold true in future, trends, barriers and research priorities differ fundamentally. Topics such as standardisation, intellectual property rights and liability must be considered completely differently depending on what technology and applications you look at.

– Standards and certification: It is generally recognised that a lack of standards has limited the uptake of AM in key industrial sectors e.g. aerospace and medical/dental. The availability of standards will help to increase the adoption of the technologies and open up extensive research and development opportunities. Professional markets are often demanding and require certification, which makes adoption of new technologies very difficult. The barriers to the widespread adoption of AM are both technical and legislative. Therefore, engaging the industry further in the ASTM F42, BSI and ISO working groups is essential for the future development of these technologies.

– Intellectual Property (IP): Experts raise concerns about the inevitable intellectual property issues that the increasing adoption of AM technologies will create (18).

AM could have a major impact on intellectual property, as objects described in a digital file could be much easier to copy, distribute and pirate. The very same scenario that occurs with the music and film industry could play out, with the development of new non-commercial models and increasing tension between hampering innovation and encouraging piracy (19).

Protecting IP of developers is a huge problem which is very similar with the protecting of rights in the music and film industry. AM industry should look for solution regarding IP protection that should be developed by the industry itself. A broadly shared IP protection technology will even overcome the concern that AM technology is controlled by just a few organisations through the protection of relevant Intellectual Property, thus restricting competition and the identification of new applications. This is slowing innovation and keeping system costs high.

Liability: There are a number of implications concerning liability, especially for amateur or unknowledgeable designers, part manufacturers or distributors. Should a part fail, who is responsible? This is an area of increasing concern for the AM industry especially where flexibility, individuality and self-designing can introduce unfamiliar territory. New business models for the supply of parts made using AM technology and the associated business risks need to be developed.

AM qualification and certification (20): Each element of Additive Manufacturing technology (i.e. materials, equipment, processes) must be qualified and certified to reproducibly manufacture high-quality parts. Non-standardisation makes the manufacturing of a high-quality part difficult on the first run. The development of AM standards for qualification and certification is complicated by the numerous permutations of machines, materials and processes and the absence of a central repository of AM data or authority on AM methodologies. Further deployment of AM technology will require standards development to facilitate quicker and more cost-effective certification of all materials, processes and products.

Complete Opinion available here.