3D printing surfaces interesting legal issues

3D printing looks set to take off in Singapore, but the cool technology throws up legal questions around product liability and copyright.


The tech flavor of the month is how 3D printing is poised to take off in Singapore .

Spurred on by the early success of Pirate3D's affordable Buccaneer  3D printers and an announcement that the Singapore government will invest US$500 million in 3D printing advanced manufacturing technologies, the technology has certainly become the talk of the town.

One of my favorite cases from intellectual property lawbooks is one which allowed the "right to repair" of exhaust systems on vehicles, where the court ruled in favor of vehicle owners who bought parts from competing manufacturers when their original exhausts broke down. The problem here is that this is an old English case, which is still applicable to Singapore but in England, the case has been superseded by European directives that have narrowed this right of repair.

3D printing can allow someone to print a replacement part, but the question is whether the user will get into legal trouble by doing so. 

Then, there is also the liability of the 3D printer manufacturer to be considered. Will the manufacturer be considered like Sony Betamax, which made video recorders that could be used for legitimate as well as illegal purposes and defensible "time-shifting" uses? Or will it be ruled like Napster, which was found liable for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement even though the actual copying was done by its users.

As usual, lawyers are going to have a field day.