- Tech & Gadgets
- BRW. lounge
Published 19 July 2012 05:02, Updated 19 July 2012 12:17
The emergence of three-dimensional printing technology has the potential to turn manufacturing and design – and the laws that govern both – on their head.
“When the internet arrived, both the owners of intellectual property and the legal profession were confronted with a new reality – electronic files, music and images that could be easily copied and distributed on a mass scale at the click of a button,” HopgoodGanim senior associate Hayden Delaney says.
He says this is not unlike the reality now presented by 3D printers and scanners that enable mass production of solid objects from a digital file.
“The question is whether designers and manufacturers – and indeed the law – are equipped to deal with the same challenges,” Delaney says.
“If people can ‘print’ their own spare parts for cars, fridges or dishwashers, what will this mean for local manufacturers and suppliers?”
The principal of Brisbane-based consultancy Cogentia, Paul Campbell, says it will reduce the pressures on low-cost labour and make certain skills obsolete. “The economics of 3D printing reduces the need for assembly, so cheap labour becomes less important,” Campbell says. “It offers Australian business the opportunity to rebuild a new manufacturing sector based on creative design of 3D printable models, rather than labour costs. It will make existing manufacturing engineering and trade skills obsolete.”
From an intellectual property perspective, Delaney says the increased ability to easily copy objects presents a raft of dilemmas. “Generally speaking, it’s not an infringement of copyright to make a plan or design by reverse-engineering a three-dimensional object,” Delaney says. “In order to protect intellectual property in those instances, it often becomes necessary to fit within certain narrow exemptions or to rely on other types of registered intellectual property, like designs or patents.”
It’s important that design and manufacturing companies take steps to protect the intellectual property rights embodied in 3D objects. Delaney says the new printing technology presents dilemmas beyond legal concerns.
“This technology democratises the means of production, so think about how it could be misused if, for example, people were able to print off guns and ammunition, and how that could frustrate gun control laws, which are legislated on the assumption that people need to acquire these things from manufacturers,” Delaney says.