Wednesday, June 15, 2016
This international special issue explores the legal issues associated with the use of 3D Printing technologies.
A disruptive technology. In 2012, Pirate Bay, one of the most popular BitTorrent sites facilitating peer-to-peer file sharing, introduced, what it is calling the "next step" for the sharing society (1), a new category of available content called ‘physibles’; these essentially are schematics for objects that can be created using 3D printing technologies. 3D printing (or additive manufacturing) is the process used in order to manufacture layer by layer three-dimensional objects based on 3D printable models usually created with computer aided design (CAD) software. Today, using 3D model search engines, like yobi3d.com, and online databases of digital design files, like Thingiverse, one can find online and develop 3D printable and other CAD models. Today, 3D printers can produce highly complex items, including spare parts of all kinds of appliances, medical prosthetics, handguns and even human tissue (bioprinting).
Legal considerations. The level of complexity that can be employed along with the wide range of materials that can be printed can make counterfeit products extremely hard (if at all possible) to identify and practically easy to reproduce on market scale. Therefore, the use of 3D printing technology can have intellectual and industrial property law implications (2). More specifically, replicating an object protected by IPRs or the online dissemination of the CAD file of the said object can (unless some legal exception applies, like private use or fair use) infringe e.g. copyright, trademark, patent, or design law. Noting that currently there does not seem to be any relevant Greek case-law, the current Greek regulatory framework can in principle cover 3D printing and offers enforcement tools to cease and desist potential IPR infringement.
Particularly with regard to the potential liability of the administrators of websites hosting or providing access to digital design files of IP protected objects and contrary to many other jurisdictions, it is noted that Greek law does not in general include any secondary/contributory liability doctrine; a claim for secondary liability could be based on the general legal principles of Greek law (tort). However, recent amendments in the Copyright and Trademark Laws have included provisions according to which right-holders in Greece can apply for an injunction against intermediaries whose services are used by a third party to infringe a copyright or trademark right.
Conclusion; a glance in the future.
It is likely that, as the technology evolves and produces constantly improved results, as the said technology becomes more and more accessible to consumers (the cost of 3D printers gradually decreases), and considering the lobbying activity of IPR holders (which is fair to assume that will steadily increase), conditions can be created which will require statutory adaptation to a new environment. We note that apart from the above mentioned IPR considerations, the evolvement and wide implementation of 3D printing technologies can also raise obvious product liability issues and even data privacy issues, e.g. when for medical or research reasons a perfect 3D copy of a patient’s organ needs to be created. An exciting (near) future is ahead (3), including personalised nutrition based on each individual’s health needs, and tailor made products, as these will not need to be manufactured in bulk, challenging the notion of scarcity. Learning from other disruptive technologies of the past, society and policy makers will need now and in advance to find a balance which will encourage innovation and at the same time protect right-holders and promote social welfare.
This issue and all previous publications are available here.