In March 2013, burlesque star Dita Von Teese grabbed the
headlines yet again, but this time for modelling the world's
first fully articulated dress produced with a 3D printer. While the
concept might sound like the stuff of fantasy, the 3D printing age
is closer than one might think and has profound implications for
WHAT IS 3D PRINTING?
3D printing (also known as additive technology) is the
manufacture of three-dimensional objects from a computer file (CAD)
using a specialised printer. Watching footage of the process brings
to mind the gadgetry of science fiction (YouTube has many
examples), hence most people are surprised to learn that the
invention has in fact been around since the 1970s. The main reason
for its apparent obscurity is that, until recently, the costs of 3D
printers and the underlying software far transcended the reach of
most of businesses, let alone the average consumer. However, now
prices are dropping rapidly, the number of brands investigating the
potential of 3D printing is on the increase.
The Von Teese dress was the creation of designer Michael
Schmidt, architect Francis Bitonti and printing firm Shapeways.
While this particular design was customised to the model and made
for purely promotional purposes (not least because it was
embellished with over 13,000 Swarovski crystals), retailers have
already started using 3D printing for more commercial projects. At
Paris Fashion Week this January, Dutch designer Barend van
Herpen's eleven-piece collection featured two 3D printed
ensembles, including a form-fitting dress. Meanwhile, in February
2013 Nike Inc unveiled its Nike Vapor Laser Talon, a shoe
incorporating a 3D printed plate enabling it to be contoured to the
particular player and increase efficiency. Even young designers are
getting on the bandwagon, with 3D printers being installed at
fashion schools such as the London College of Fashion.
With the price of 3D printers now falling (one brand of domestic
3D printer in Australia currently retails for around AU$1,800), an
obvious commercial risk for mass manufacturers is that they are cut
out of the supply chain. While consumers do need appropriate CAD
files in order to print, websites such as www.thingiverse.com are
making this an increasingly easy hurdle to overcome, providing free
3D files for a vast array of objects, including fashion
accessories, jewellery, spectacle frames, juicers and even a model
Predator unmanned military aircraft.
In addition, 3D printing presents challenges for retailers in
the context of their intellectual property rights. If illegal film
or music downloading was a problem for copyright owners, imagine
the consequences of teenagers being able to "print" Nike
trainers in their bedrooms. The Pirate Bay, a notorious
file-sharing site in a music and film context, has already created
a new category for files that allow 3D printers to create physical
objects. Moreover, in many cases, IP regimes will offer defences to
copiers, whether on the grounds of domestic use or exclusions for
"must fit" designs or industrially exploited copyright
FRIEND OR FOE?
Creative genius or space-age nightmare, 3D printing is an
innovation which is unlikely to disappear soon. Retailers are
therefore advised to add 3D printing to the ever-increasing watch
list of IP exposures, to ensure they stay ahead of the
infringers' game. At the same time, the concept offers a brave
new world for creative business who capitalize on the opportunity
to produce highly complex and customized designs.
This publication is intended as a general overview and
discussion of the subjects dealt with. It is not intended to be,
and should not used as, a substitute for taking legal advice in any
specific situation. DLA Piper Australia will accept no
responsibility for any actions taken or not taken on the basis of
DLA Piper Australia is part of DLA Piper, a global law firm,
operating through various separate and distinct legal entities. For
further information, please refer to www.dlapiper.com
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