Canada: 3D Printing And Intellectual Property Rights In Canada

In December of 2014, no less than the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) demonstrated how far 3D printing, a decades-old technology, had advanced when a 3D printer on the International Space Station (ISS) was used to print a ratchet wrench utilizing a design file transmitted from earth to the ISS printer.

A resulting celebratory statement by Niki Werkheiser, the ISS 3D printer program manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama was published at

"In less than a week, the ratchet was designed, approved by safety and other NASA reviewers, and the file was sent to space where the printer made the wrench in four hours."

Printing the ratchet wrench was experimental only and the wrench will not be used on the ISS but the experiment is directional in that astronauts on space missions might one day be able to design and manufacture purpose-specific tools as needed, with Ms. Werkheiser commenting that, "We even may be able to make objects that previously couldn't even be launched to space."

The success of the NASA experiment delighted both the ISS astronauts and space exploration fans but for those in the intellectual property field it points out the challenges in defining and protecting rights in 3D design and printing.


At its simplest, 3D printing is the production of objects utilizing a printer that brings an object into existence by laying down successive layers of materials (typically plastic or metal). The size, form and shape of the object being printed is defined in a Standard Tessellation Language (STL) software file. STL files are commonly referred to as "3D models" or "printable models".

3D printing is effectively a type of computer-aided (CAD) manufacturing. An object complete in its own right can be printed, or individual parts for other objects can be printed. Objects can be printed for utilitarian use, such as tools, or they can be printed for fun or artistic purposes, such as toys or a sculpture.

Completed objects can be printed in one colour or multi-colour.

3D printing spurs creativity and can reduce manufacturing, shipping and warehousing costs, given that manufacturers can make small runs of goods and even direct manufacture to geographic areas of need by simply sending an STL file to a specific printer across town or across the planet.

3D printers are no longer accessible only by commercial printers or manufacturers. In Canada, 3D printers can be purchased by small businesses, start-ups and even householders and they are increasingly being acquired by public libraries for use by the general public. This widespread accessibility provides tremendous opportunities for innovation in design, manufacture and utilization of objects, but as is typical of a technology that has rescaled from commercial use limited by cost and complex technology to affordable "push-button" consumer access, applying traditional IP rights to the design and printing of the resulting 3D object is a challenge.


Trademark Rights

In seeking to register or enforce rights in a trademark, the mark must be associated with specific goods or services. The World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) and the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) recognize "3D printers" as a good to which a trademark can be associated. CIPO also recognizes "3D printer software" and WIPO recognizes "computer software for three dimensional simulation for use in design and development of industrial products" as acceptable language for the software associated with 3D printers.

So far, neither WIPO nor CIPO appears to insist on the purpose of 3D printer software being stated, that is, one is not required to claim, for example, "3D printer software for printing toys", although WIPO's definition speaks to "industrial products". The open-ended definition for 3D software utilized by CIPO benefits commercial 3D software designers who prefer a singular trademark or brand for their business as they develop new software over time without having to keep filing new trademark applications identifying a field or use for the object designed, created and printed by the 3D printer with the assistance of 3D software.

Equally, however, 3D software designers may wish to have unique brands for different software offerings. For example, a designer may have a specific brand for offering 3D software to institutional clients such as libraries and a different brand for 3D software offered to commercial customers.

Currently, words and text such as trademarks cannot be printed in label form on an object created by 3D printing although objects printed can include representations of words in raised text, themselves forming an integral part of the object printed. Accordingly, trademark owners should be aware that their trademarks could be printed in 3D form for unauthorized display or promotion. Also, manufacturers may find their products counterfeited using 3D print technology and then packaged or labeled using the manufacturer's trademark.

Manufacturers of branded goods who wish to license production of a product to others using 3D printing methods should ensure any license agreement includes specific provisions about trademark use. Provisions may include the manner in which the trademark may be applied to the product or its labeling or packaging. Effort should be made to ensure product labeling stating who actually "made" the product does not confuse consumers as to who owns the trademark.

In Canada, trademark licenses should contain provisions which allow the trademark owner to exercise control over the character and quality of the goods offered by the licensee. Careful thought should be given to terms which may allow 3D software to be altered. The creation of a new or different product than the one claimed in a trademark registration could raise doubts about the trademark owner's exercise of control over the character or quality of the goods/products in question.

Trademark owners should carefully scrutinize potential licensees of 3D software to ensure that they are not counterfeiters.


3D printing also raises interesting questions about the protection copyright may provide to objects printed with the assistance of 3D printers. As is the case with any work that is the subject of copyright, making unauthorized copies of works that are physical objects and that are protected by copyright constitutes copyright infringement, regardless of the tools or methods used to create the objects. However, in the case of objects produced by a 3D printer, the first question may be whether the object may even be protected by copyright or some other more suitable form of intellectual property right.

Copyright covers the form or expression of an idea. Copyright may subsist in works produced in the artistic, literary, musical, or dramatic domains (including performer's performance, sound recordings and communication signals, for example) as long as such works are original works. Since original, useful articles created or printed by 3D printers may also have particularly appealing visual features, a product produced or printed by a 3D printer could conceivably be protected as an artistic work under the Copyright Act or possibly as an industrial design under the Industrial Design Act, which applies to aesthetic features of functional articles.

Whether products created by 3D printers are purely artistic or whether they have some visual design features that are appealing to the eye, copyright will only apply if the work is original within the meaning of the Copyright Act. This requirement will play a significant role in assessing whether copyright protection is available, where the product produced is a useful article. Similarly, the Industrial Design Act may apply to an article that is useful, if the features applied to the useful article are not dictated solely by a utilitarian function.

Since some physical products created by 3D printers will have features that are dictated by a utilitarian function, such products will not be eligible for protection under the Industrial Design Act; similarly, such artistic works that are dominated by their utilitarian functions may not satisfy the test for originality, a necessary requirement for copyright protection. As such, many objects created by 3D printers may not be eligible for copyright or industrial design protection in Canada – although the associated design files may be. In such a case, copying a design file (as long as there are copyrightable elements within the file) without permission may result in copyright infringement. Regardless of whether a design file associated with a physical product may be the subject of copyright or not, the copyright associated with the design file per se, may not restrict or prevent the production of a purely useful product that is represented by the design file in question and such production may not result in copyright infringement.

Since 3D printing involves many elements that may be the subject of different intellectual property rights (the physical object produced as well as digital design files that represent an object), and since physical objects produced by 3D printers may be dominated by their useful function(s), establishing what rights apply to physical objects as well as to associated design files, may be just as challenging as establishing that rights have been infringed, that a particular physical product is counterfeit, or even whether certain rights may or should be licensed and how they should be licensed.

3D printing will drive commercial and education benefits, that can't be foreseen, on this planet or beyond. Hopefully, Canadian law can keep up.

About BLG

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Field LLP
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Field LLP
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions