In an age of 3D printing, intellectual property battles loom

Summary:Three-dimensional printers can exactly replicate a physical object, making it much harder to enforce copyright, patents and trademarks. Is the legal world ready for

What if you could replicate any object in the known world?

And what if that object was an original creation by someone else? How do you credit the inventor? How does that person get paid for his or her innovation?

In a smart article in Ars Technica, Peter Hanna writes that three-dimensional printers threaten to complicate the enforcement of intellectual property law.

If you're unfamiliar with them, 3D printers use a digital file -- either a master design or a scan of an existing object -- to progressively deposit, much like an inkjet printer does in two dimensions, layers of material such as plastic or metal. Once the layers are complete, they are fused together, and the fabricated object is hardened.

That's right -- there's no carving necessary.

As you might suspect, a 3D printer threatens patents, copyrights and trademarks just as much as the two-dimensional printer threatened them on the printed page.

There's not much to argue about in terms of the actual IP owner. But what about enablers?

Like hosting digital music files, which are often studio-perfect copies of recorded audio or video, hosting 3D design files for the public to access could be a lawsuit-attracting proposition.

For now, 3D printers are far too expensive for the average person to bother with. But it's not far-fetched to imagine your young daughter one day printing out the not-yet-released Barbie she's been lusting over -- or for you to print out that Eero Saarinen chair you've always wanted -- for pennies on the dollar.

The next Napster? Copyright questions as 3D printing comes of age [Ars Technica]

This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. He is also the former editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation. He writes about business, technology and design now but used to cover finance, fashion and culture. He was an intern at Money, Men's Vogue, Popular Mechanics and the New York Daily Ne... Full Bio

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