It prompted a take-down demand from the folks behind Tintin, a cease-and-desist command from those associated with Game of Thrones and no less than the President paused to give it a shout-out in his recent State of the Union: 3-D printing and printers are not just here, they’re falling in price, becoming a more ubiquitous technology and they’re just starting to become a potential new sore spot for Hollywood and creative types concerned about protecting intellectual property.
Fernando Sosa found this out when he got a much-publicized cease-and-desist letter from HBO over his 3-D-printed, Game of Thrones-inspired cellphone dock. And while some museums seem intrigued about the possibility of others outside their institutions creating 3-D replicas of great art works in public collections, Thingverse.com, an online exchange for digital designs for 3-D printers, got zinged with a take-down notice from Moulinsart, owners of the rights to Tintin, over some holiday ornaments that look like the famed cartoon character’s moon rocket. (Those designs are still up, by the way.)
Costs fall, conflicts rise
As 3D printers become more affordable, ranging anywhere from just under $1,000 to more than $3,000, intellectual property owners are raising alarm and legal minds are offering early guidance to avert conflict. Sites such as Thingiverse.com and instructables.com which provide blueprints to help 3-D printers build anything, make it hard for IP owners to recover from. 3D printing allows for personal manufacturing of objects, which may be copyrightable. Copyright applies to 3-D printing because sculptural works or three dimensional representations are protected so long as there is a modicum of creativity original to the owner.
President Obama said in his State of the Union Address that “3-D printing… has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.” However this power of manufacturing and production to the masses will create difficulties for IP owners to police uses of their rights. As reported in Boston Business Journal, 3-D printing will not only prompt an increase in patent and intellectual property lawsuits, this litigation will affect everyone, from consumers to 3-D printing companies and CAD file makers.
Causes of action?
According to patent attorney Ryan J. Vogel, owners of intellectual property may seek to bring claims such as:
- Patent infringement — although once an item is patented any unauthorized use of the invention constitutes infringement, policing and protecting patent rights in inventions copied on 3-D printers is difficult.
- Trade secret infringement –– trade secret law “offers protection to a formula, practice, process, design, instrument, pattern or compilation of information as long as the subject of the secret is not generally known in the industry, appropriate efforts have been made to keep it secret and the secret confers a competitive advantage.” This is becoming a more preferred method because “unlike patent law, trade secret law carries… no requirement of usefulness, novelty or non-obviousness.
- Trade dress and design patent — for trade dress to protect the overall appearance and image of the product, it must be inherently distinctive or have developed a secondary meaning. Design patent protection comes from the exact description of the design or ornamental invention illustrated within the design patent. Similar to patent infringement claims, policing the rights will be challenging.
- Copyright — this protection automatically attaches to creative works fixed in a tangible medium. While copyright pplies obviously applies to items that are design-oriented, it is also increasingly difficult to police.
While the most current 3-D printing litigation is around the actual patent of the printing itself, it will be interesting to see how this innovation will affect consumers, giving them the ability to produce items without relying on manufacturers.