The Economist, in an editorial called ‘Print Me a
Stradivarius’, recently questioned how 3- dimensional
printing will affect IP. My reaction was a simple: Say What!
Digital printing, it turns out, has little to do with
‘printing’ as we understand it. Rather it is a method
of manufacturing products by using a computer and a printer-type
thing called a fabricator (no this newsletter wasn’t created
by one!). The Economist explains it rather well:
‘‘First you call up a blueprint on your computer screen
and tinker with its shape and colour where necessary. Then you
press print. A machine nearby whirrs into life and builds up the
object gradually, either by depositing material from a nozzle, or
by selectively solidifying a thin layer of plastic or metal dust
using tiny drops of glue or a tightly focussed beam. Products are
then built up progressively adding material, one layer at a time:
hence the technology’s other name, additive
At the moment these ‘printers’ can only handle
plastics, resins and metals, but, says a BBC report,
it’s only a matter of time before they will be able to create
other stuff, like body parts. The socio-economic implications could
be huge says The Economist: factories could become redundant,
unemployment could grow, and the whole urbanisation thing could be
This technology will also have a huge impact on IP says the
editorial. It will, we’re told, prove a boon to inventors,
who will be able to make prototypes very easily – design it
on your computer and send to ‘print’. In the same way
that computer geeks collaborate on open source software, engineers
are apparently starting to collaborate on open source product
designs. The bad guys will, of course be licking their
lips too, with copying becoming so much easier - in the same way
that high speed tape recorders made audio piracy so popular in the
1980’s (and in fact led to a UK case where a court was asked
to find that the manufacturers of such machines were contributing
to copyright infringement), there will no doubt be calls for
restrictions on 3-D printers. The IP rights most likely to be
affected are patents and registered designs, although these
machines will obviously also be able to produce
‘counterfeits’ as understood in trade mark law.
‘The lawyers are, no doubt, rubbing their hands’
ends the editorial. This one was. Well, at least until he read an
article in Time that predicted that the era of artificial
intelligence is not far off. Which is when computers are more
intelligent than we are, and humans merge with computers to form
cyborgs. And just how will that affect IP? You’ll need
a computer to work that one out!
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It has always been the practice of the Industrial Property Institute of Mozambique to prohibit the refiling of trade marks that have been finally refused, which has posed a serious obstacle to trade mark applicants...
A recent Australian decision on keyword usage of a registered trade mark is in line with decisions in many other countries, including South Africa.
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