3D printing was conceptualised in the 1970s, but the first practical application was not recorded until the early 1980s. Technology has advanced dramatically over the years, allowing the creation of almost anything imaginable. Inventors in the 3D printing industry, like those in other industries, require protection for their inventions and creations, making intellectual property issues in 3D printing a critical topic in the industry.
This guide on intellectual property for the 3D printing industry is a must-read for anyone interested in 3D printing.
Understanding Intellectual Property
Intellectual property is a legal right that is granted to individuals or entities for creations that are the result of their intellectual or creative efforts. All jurisdictions have laws to protect these rights, but how they are applied varies slightly. Copyright, trademarks, and patents are the most common types of registrable IP rights.
A producer is not required to register their IP for protection, but doing so provides numerous benefits, the most important of which is exclusive rights to your creations and the technologies used to create them.
Intellectual Property Issues in 3D Printing
Copyrights in 3D Printing
Original creative works such as photographs, literature, drawings, architectural works, and so on are protected by copyright. Authors of creative works, unlike other types of intellectual property, are not required to register their rights; copyrights apply by default to the creator unless rights are transferred or the creator is an employee and the creation is part of their job description.
Furthermore, copyrights are valid for the author’s lifetime and for many years after death. In most jurisdictions, it is 50 or 70 years after the author’s death or the death of the last surviving author if there are multiple authors.
Copyrights can apply to printed products and the lines of code used to create the system on which a printer runs, among other things, in the case of 3D printing. You may also end up on the receiving end if you print copyrighted objects or objects that closely resemble them.
Trademarks in 3D Printing
Trademark rights cover distinguishing signs, symbols, names, and logos that help differentiate products from one manufacturer from others on the market. Trademarks can be applied to identifiers used to market an entity’s creations in 3D printing.
It also applies to company names, logos, slogans, blog names, and so on. On a first-to-use basis, trademarks can be applied by default. However, because enforcement can be difficult, it is always best to register your trademarks to obtain exclusive rights.
Most jurisdictions, including Canada, provide trademark protection for a 10-year term that is renewable, but you must pay a service fee to renew the rights after 10 years.
Patents and 3D Printing
Patent protection is available for new inventions. New inventions must be firsts in the world, non-obvious, and have a practical application. Utility, design, and plant patents are the three types of patent rights, but only utility and design patents have applications in 3D printing.
Utility patents are frequently mentioned when discussing patents because they involve new inventions and cover the functional aspects of the invention. Under Canadian law, design patents, also known as industrial design rights, apply to the non-functional/aesthetical aspect of an object.
For example, if your new design only adds a feature that affects a product’s aesthetics rather than its functionality, you may want to register it for protection under industrial design rights. However, in this case, an IP lawyer can be a great guide for patent licencing and can even help you have a less stressful experience protecting your new designs.
As 3D printing gains mainstream acceptance and applicability, industry players must understand the implications and applications of intellectual property (IP) in 3D printing as a first step towards remaining competitive and profitable while avoiding legal trouble with other entities.
As previously stated, copyright, trademark, and patent rights are the most relevant in 3D printing, but other IP rights, such as trade secrets, may also be relevant.
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