3D Printers: Should Brand Owners Be Worried?

3D printing marks a new wave of printing technology that has wide-reaching implications on both sides of the law.

The impact of this technology on intellectual rights is significant. 3D printing is becoming more affordable for businesses, consumers and counterfeiters. This presents a new challenge, for brand owners, in the fight against counterfeiting.

3D printing can take hours per unit, but they are getting quicker and their capability is increasing. This leaves brand owners wondering if counterfeiters will use 3D printers to duplicate their products.

How 3D printers work

This technology takes a 3D design and turns it into a real object.

A 3D design is created using special software on a computer. The design can also be borrowed and modified. For example, Thingiverse allows people to use over 100,000 designs.

The design is inputted or scanned into a 3D printer. The product (such as plastics and metals) is added layer-by-layer to create different shapes.

Types of products manufactured

The end result allows people to produce their own goods.

The applications are endless, from clothing and household items to musical instruments and food.

3D printed gun

Body parts, such as human ears, have been created. Working guns have hit the market. Entire houses and cars have been built using a 3D printer.

Businesses can benefit from 3D printing because it has the potential to cut down on manufacturing costs. It creates structures that would be impossible to make using traditional methods and it combines materials in innovative ways.

3D printing can also be used for more nefarious purposes, such as manufacturing knockoffs. This presents a new challenge for brand owners.

New tool for counterfeiters

3D printing is a game changer. It gives counterfeiters more options. A counterfeiter equipped with a high-resolution scanner and a decent 3D printer can produce many different kinds of knockoffs. They will also be able to take an element of a brand, and apply it to their own designs.

Using the law to protects brands

The challenge is also a legal one. Policies and laws, designed to protect brands in the age of 3D printing, will need to keep up with technology, without stifling innovation.

Patent and trademark offices will also need to update current processes to help protect brands.

iPod dock

There have already been infringement claims. HBO sent a cease and desist letter to nuPROTO, a 3D printing service provider, to stop printing Iron Throne docks.

The product was an iPhone dock inspired after the Game of Thrones series. This resulted in a change in the way they market their product.

Consumers as manufacturers

Counterfeiting and businesses are not the only ones interested in using 3D printers to replicate brands. Consumers will also want to use this technology.

Intellectual property owners will face challenges similar to those that the digital industry faces when their software, movies and music is shared and downloaded online.

As prices of 3D printers get more affordable, consumers are starting to use this technology to create their own counterfeits at home.

Brand owners may decide to tackle this issue by selling the rights to use their 3D printable designs to consumers.

This will circumvent the potential advantage that a counterfeiter has by placing this capability in the hands of the consumer.

In some cases, consumers don’t even need to purchase a 3D printer. Buyers can use a 3D printing service to duplicate products.

Photo Source: Flickr, Flickr (rifle) & Flickr (Game of Thrones iPod dock)

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