If you believe the hype, the next great wave of home printers is almost upon us. In just a few decades we’ve gone from dot matrix to inkjet to laser printers, increasing clarity and contrast with each step. But this new wave of printing has nothing to do with reproducing words or images in paper; instead, it’s known as “additive manufacturing” or 3-D printing.
With a 3-D printer, you can scan or feed in a CAD drawing of an item, kick back, and watch your printer build up the object layer-by-layer. The initial wave of 3-D printers mainly produces objects with plastics or polymer as the raw material. You can see the benefits for manufacturers. Rather than whittling away a block of plastic to arrive at your 3-D result (wasting a large portion of the raw material), additive manufacturing uses only as much as needed for the finished product. When you need a small replacement part, you no longer need to scour catalogs or send out an order for it only to find that it’s no longer in production – you can just print your own!
As with most cutting edge technology, 3-D print technology poses some potential drawbacks for intellectual property owners. In the case of the perhaps not so distant future when every home has a 3-D printer which can currently make objects as complex as machine parts, airplane landing gear, guitars, and alien spaceship technology, a whole slew of questions arise for trademark, copyright, and patent holders. In the trademark arena, a number of issues arise in the area of trade dress infringement.
Oh, and about that alien spaceship technology? No, 3-D printers won’t be manufacturing warp drives or terraforming machines anytime soon (not that we’re aware of here at T+B). An intrepid movie buff did, however, run afoul of Paramount Pictures when he attempted to sell replicas of cubes which were the raw material for alien spacecraft in the movie ‘Super 8’.
Could this advance in 3-D technology open up a slew of issues à la digital file sharing, or will it be a smaller fad like, say, 3-D movies?