3D printing, the Maker Movement, IP litigation and legal reform

Author:Matthew Rimmer
Position:Professor in Intellectual Property and Innovation Law at the Faculty of Law in the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane, Australia

3D printing is a field of technology that relies upon additive manufacturing (as opposed to traditional subtractive manufacturing). 3D printing has also been associated with the Maker Movement – a social movement focused upon developing and sharing design files.

The field of 3D printing is currently undergoing a transitional phase. The consumer 3D printing revolution – which was aimed at one day seeing a 3D printer in every home – has been a disappointment. The pioneering home 3D printing company MakerBot was embroiled in a number of controversies over its changing approach to intellectual property (IP), resulting in disenchantment with the open source maker community and alienation from its user-base. Bre Pettis, the former head of MakerBot, reflected in an interview, “the open-source community cast us out of heaven.” In the end, MakerBot was taken over by the leading 3D printing company Stratsys and was restructured and repurposed.

A number of other key companies became insolvent. TechShop, a chain of membership-based, open-access, do-it-yourself workshop and fabrication studios, went into bankruptcy. Maker Media – which runs Make Magazine and a couple of maker festivals in the United States – went into administration. Dale Dougherty, founder of Make Magazine has sought to revive the venture with Make Community LLC.

Industrial 3D printing continues to advance

While personal 3D printing has not developed as anticipated, there has been a rise in a number of other forms and modes of 3D printing. Industrial 3D printing – along with robotics and Big Data – has become integrated into advanced manufacturing. Information technology and design companies have sought to improve the applications of 3D printing. Metal 3D printing has attracted significant investment – particularly from transportation companies. There also has been much experimentation with health applications of 3D printing – such as dental 3D printing, medical 3D printing, and bioprinting.

As the technology has matured and advanced, there have been a number of early pieces of litigation and some policy developments in respect of 3D printing regulation. Our recent book 3D Printing and Beyond explores some of the key developments in IP and 3D printing. In particular, it investigates 3D printing issues in the domains of copyright law, designs law, trademark law, patent law, and trade secrets (as well as some larger questions about 3D printing regulation). It also looks at the use of...

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