Posted on: 18 September 2019

What are the rules surrounding intellectual property when it comes to 3D printing?

Earlier this year, we produced some information on how 3D printing can impact the manufacturing industry. We briefly touched on intellectual property, but with this article, we will take a more in-depth look at what intellectual property means for the manufacturing industry when it comes to 3D printing and some of the risks of infringing on these properties.

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property is defined by the UK Government as “something unique that you physically create. An idea alone is not intellectual property”, and uses the example that having the idea for a book isn’t intellectual property, but the words that you write in the book are.

Another example would be if you were creating a modified hammer. Having the idea of the modified hammer would not be intellectual property in UK law; you would need a physical representation of the instrument.

Once something has been approved as being an intellectual property in UK law, you cannot use, sell, reproduce or distribute the protected item without first having the express consent of the owner(s) of the intellectual property. If you do so, you can be found guilty of infringement.

The government passed the 2014 Intellectual Property Act to help protect intellectual property.

How 3D Printers could increase the risk of copyright infringement

Because 3D printers provide owners with the ability to produce their own products with ease and wherever they house their printer, this could put the owner at risk of infringement. Creating a product with a 3D printer is as easy as downloading a file and letting the printer do the rest of the work, so ensuring that either the downloaded file is patent or copyright free, or getting the permission of the patent owner, is essential to avoid infringements.

If you infringe on copyright, by intentionally duplicating registered copyright, design, patent or trademark, you could face up to 10 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.

What are the intellectual property risks?

Because of the potential to either knowingly or unknowingly commit a serious offence, keep an eye out for these risks when using a 3D printer to create something:

  • Where you find your CAD file: When sourcing your CAD designs, make sure that the source is reputable, instead of a pirate website, for example.
  • Having the correct permission: Whilst it may be their own design, people who create files can still base their design on licenced products. For example, uploading a design file of Doctor Who’s TARDIS without approval or permission from the licence holder.
  • Having your own IP rights infringed: By making slight modifications of licensed designs people could potentially be using your intellectual property without your permission.
  • Reputation damage: If someone has created a counterfeit copy of your product and has kept your logo in the design, people may assume that it is your product that is defective or faulty. This would cause people to be distrustful of your business rather than the suppliers of the part.

How to reduce these risks

Avoiding the risks listed above is essential to avoiding copyright infringement or reputation damage, so take a look at our advice on how you can reduce your risks when working with 3D printers:

  • Choosing your designs: Having a safe way to choose which designs you use is essential in making sure that the designs you choose are available to use legally. You may want to use an Application Programming Interface (commonly referred to as an API), which communicates with the printer and sends instructions to ensure you are only using the right amount of purchased designs.
  • Protect your property: Go to the UK Government website to see how you can protect your patents, designs, trademarks or copyrights. You will also need to check every now and then to make sure that the protection on your intellectual property doesn’t lapse. You should also make sure that the protection is enough to protect your intellectual property from anyone who could infringe on your property through loopholes.
  • Stay vigilant: Keep an eye out for anything that resembles your intellectual property online. If you do find something that infringes on your intellectual property, be sure to pursue the correct channels to ensure you’re compensated.

Manufacturers insurance with Premierline

Manufacturing is an industry with many complex risks that need to be managed or mitigated. Because of this, you will need a comprehensive manufacturing insurance cover that will protect your business and your livelihood.

At Premierline, we understand that a one size fits all approach to insurance doesn’t work for all businesses, which is why our insurance experts assess your insurance needs to find the business insurance quote that is right for your business. Our advisors have a wealth of experience in finding insurance for different businesses in the manufacturing industry, such as printers or engineers, so get in touch today.

Source: Zywave Inc. – Manufacturing Risk Insights – 3D Printing and Intellectual Property

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