14 May 2015

The Intellectual Property Office looks at Additive Manufacturing

Turbine produced by 3D Printing
Source Wikipedia

I have written quite a lot about additive manufacturing including 3 dimensional printing over the last few years. You will find links to those articles at Liverpool Inventors Club Re-launch - Fabulous FabLab 28 Jan 2012. At the end of April 2015 the Intellectual Property Office published A Legal and Empirical Study into the Intellectual Property Implications of 3D Printing in the following parts:
The IPO had commissioned the study because Andrew Sissons and Spencer Thompson had recommended a review of the intellectual property implications of 3D printing in their report Three Dimensional Policy Why Britain needs a policy framework for 3D printing which was published by the Big Innovation Centre in Oct 2012.

Study 1 considered the legal framework in the UK and other countries and concluded that there was some uncertainty as to whether CAD files and their data could be protected adequately. Study 2 discussed additive manufacturing technologies and their application to date. The Studies concluded that from the data retrieved in Study I, there was nothing to indicate that the activity on 3D printing on-line platforms was a mass phenomenon yet. As such, there was no urgency to legislate on 3D printing. Indeed the report argued that
"a premature call for legislative and judicial action in the realm of 3D printing could stifle the public interest of 'fostering creativity and innovation and the right of manufacturers and content creators to protect their livelihoods.'”
Nevertheless, there was a need to clarify the law on  whether a CAD file is capable of copyright protection. It was thought that the territorial nature of copyright law, coupled with the extra territorial nature of on-line platforms and CAD files shared thereon, could lead to uncertainty and complex issues in the future. The Studies urged the IPO to
"establish a Working Group to cover the various IP rights which may need to be tackled in the future. The Working Group should also provide clarity on the status of CAD files and how they can best be used in industry. The Group should also consider how best to tackle the traceability of 3D printed spare parts."
In other words, pretty well much the same recommendation as Sisson and Thompson had made in their report nearly three years ago.

I take issue with some of those conclusions. Additive manufacturing may not be a mass phenomenon in the sense that there is a 3D printer in every home or a 3D print shop on every street corner but those technologies are developing rapidly and are finding ever increasing uses ranging from the fabrication of prosthetic body parts and the reconstitution of human tissues to precision engineering. The industry may be in its infancy but it is already big and it is growing quickly. Secondly, Study I concentrated on copyright but not other intellectual property rights albeit that Study 2 considered them in the context of the case studies. I do not anticipate any difficulty over whether copyright subsists in CAD files but I do see increasing scope for arguments over obviousness in relation to inventions developed with CAD technology. Also, there is an clear risk of counterfeiting through the use of such technology. However, I would agree that there is no need for specific legislation at this stage if ever. The existing legislative framework and the courts should be able to cope with all  foreseeable problems.

Should anyone wish to discuss these studies or the legal consequences of additive manufacturing technology in general, he or she should call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.