It Will Be Awesome If They Don’t Screw It Up

Posted on April 7, 2011

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3D printing, Intellectual Property, and the Fight Over the Next Great Disruptive Technology
Michael Weinberg, Public Knowledge
November 2010

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This white paper discusses three similar, but very different classifications of ‘copyright’ law that could alter the future of this technology by manufacturers, copyright holders who want to maintain the status quo.

Specifically the paper defines copyright, patent and trademark describing the traditional distinctions among the three types of intellectual property law, a few ‘secondary’ terms related to each and then describes the implications of past decisions on ‘disruptive technologies’ and what this could mean for the future of 3D printing. As Weinberg points out, this is important to discuss now as the emerging technology could easily coin hobbyists and enthusiasts in a negative light – only to slow down possible innovation in the field. (Expanding liability to companies that provide 3D printing services under the three intellectual property branches.

Though the definitions of the intellectual property terms are helpful – they are rather confusing to keep straight and understand as an individual not familiar with the nuances of the law. The latter portion of the paper discusses how each branch of IP, may affect 3D printing. For example:

1.) Patent: Function is important with patents and they last for much shorter periods of time than copyright – ‘to demonstrate that the idea is no longer ‘new’’. manufacturers could attempt to ‘stigmatize CAD filetypes in the same way copyright holders did to bit-torrent FTPs were depicted and lowered mainstream adoption. Staple article of commerce – states that ‘selling a general purpose equipment that can perform a process does not infringe on a patent on that process – i.e. the VCR.

2.) Copyright: important to 3D printing and copyright discusses is the ‘severability test’. This test distinguishes between ‘decoration’ and ‘functionality’. Weinberg uses a vase as an example. The function of the vase – that it holds liquid and other contents – requires a patent. However, the design on the surface of the vase – would be protected under copyright law. However, this severability test has blurred due to cases involved with Fashion copyright, the Dyson vacuum and the iPod as considered as art, which passed after Congress added a special copyright protection on boat hull designs.

3.) Trademark: was originally developed to help protect consumers and is not a part of the Constitution. This ensures that when you buy a product with a manufacturers label on the front – it did indeed come from that manufacturer. Currently, manufacturers wish to expand this scope by claiming patent-like guidelines instead of copyright, which would affect the amount of time such privilege rights could be held.

Submitted by Lauren Barnett

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Posted in: Reviews