How might 3D printing affect the future of intellectual property?

October 28, 2013 5:05 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

The concept of 3D printing seems to be ripped straight out of a science fiction novel, but in the past several years this technology has grown to be very real. Thanks to the rapidly falling cost of printers, businesses and even ordinary consumers now have the power to create items out of plastic, metal and other compounds.

It's easy to see how this technology is revolutionary, with the potential to forever change how we think about the manufacturing process. But for our purposes, what is most interesting is the effect that 3D printing will have on intellectual property law.

Deven Desai, a law professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law and contributor to the Philadelphia Daily News, writes that 3D printing could harm intellectual property protection that at one time relied on "physical limits to prevent infringement." Currently, most large businesses are under the impression that individuals cannot simply recreate some of their protected technology on their own. With 3D printing, however, it becomes a distinct possibility.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, Desai writes. After all, "[t]he easy ability to customize virtually anything also opens doors for the disabled, the elderly, or anyone who finds that their particular needs are not being met or are unaffordable." 

However, it is also true that a technology that reduces the value of patents requires up-to-date regulations. For this reason, Desai calls on Congress to update intellectual property protections in a sensible manner so that 3D printers can be used in innovative ways without unduly threatening a company's bottom line.

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