The Centre for Intellectual Property Policy and Management has recently looked into the intellectual property implications of 3D printing.
A 3D printer can only operate with a set of instructions that are found in a design file. However this is not new technology with the first patent being granted in 1977 to American Wyn Kelly Swainson.
Where a user has created an original 3D design file the intellectual property rights should normally remain with the creator.
Although this is not always the case with online platforms used to create 3D design files.
Amazingly 65% of users who use online platforms for the purposes of 3D printing do not licence their work. This means that the work is open to infringement and they lose the ability to claim authorship of the work.
The users of one (thingiverse.com) online platform grant an irrevocable, worldwide royalty-free licence that allows the online platform to reproduce, distribute, publicly display and perform the designs.
With labels such as “art” and “robot” being marketed at higher prices let’s hope they are in the 35% of users who do licence their work.
It has been recommended that the online platforms explain the various licences, with the most appropriate licence being a default. However confusion amongst users is sure to arise, with the nature of intellectual property law teamed up with the international nature of the online platforms used to create the designs.