Just as inkjet printers deposit drops of ink to create a
document, 3-D printers lay down bits of plastic, metal, or other
material to build an object. But as 3-D printers enter the
consumer market, they may also fashion new challenges for
intellectual property law.
Commercial 3-D printers, which can cost $50,000, are already
being used to manufacture parts for aircraft and other
machinery. Now, $500 home printers are allowing consumers to
download design files and print items as diverse as jewelry,
smartphone cases, and kitchen gadgets. Meanwhile, retailers
like Staples have plans to offer 3-D printing as a service.
"3-D printing is yet another manifestation of reproduction
capabilities extending to the masses," points out
Michael Jacobs, a Morrison & Foerster partner. "Xerox
machines were first. Videos were another example; music
downloads yet another. Each time, the IP law has come under
stress, yet accommodations have been reached. That will happen with
3-D printing, as well."
Still, how those eventualities play out remains to be
seen. For example, "there could be right-of-publicity
issues affected by 3-D printing," says
Craig Whitney, a senior litigation associate at Morrison &
Foerster. "A bobble-head doll of your favorite athlete or
actor could be yours at the click of a button, with no control by
or compensation to the celebrity whose image is being
What's more, 3-D printing could alter market segments,
Whitney suggests. "Makers of consumer electronics, for
example—particularly hand-held devices—could see
consumers sharing images of replacement parts or after-market
products and printing them," he says. "That could
supplant an entire market."
Companies that create tangible, three-dimensional objects are no
longer immune to the risks of file sharing that the music and film
industries have dealt with for more than a decade.
Some IP holders will want to vigorously defend against patent or
copyright infringement related to 3-D printing, while others may be
wiser to embrace it—for example, by offering files that let
consumers print their own copies of products or spare
parts. "This technology is here, and it's only
growing," Whitney says. "Rather than fight it, you might
want to take advantage of it to monetize your copyrights."
Because of the generality of this update, the information
provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should
not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular
In Wasica Finance GmbH v. Continental Automotive Systems, Inc., No. 15-2078 (Fed. Cir. 2017), the patentee Wasica Finance discovered, among other things, the importance of using consistent terminology in the patent specification and claims.
While under attack for several years now, the patent infringement defense of laches was dealt a serious, and likely final, blow by the recent Supreme Court case of SCA Hygiene Products AB et al. v. First Quality Baby Products LLC et al.
Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C.
On April 6, 2017, the Federal Circuit reversed-in-part and affirmed-in-part the district court's judgment of infringement and summary judgment for non-infringement of The Medicines Company's ("MedCo") patents-in-suit.
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