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Need some new toys, architectural models, or maybe an undetectable gun? No need to take a trip to the store. For a few hundred dollars, you can pick up a consumer-grade 3-D printer and start printing out everything from Japanese flutes to Adidas sneakers.
For lawyers, 3D printers could also be pumping out new clients and extra billable hours, as consumer 3D printing leads to increased intellectual property disputes.
3D Printing a Lawsuit
The laws regarding 3D printing are lax. Federal law, for example, allows you to make your own firearms. You don't have to be a skilled gunsmith to take advantage of that law, though, since 3D printing makes it easy to turn your garage or living room into a firearms factory. But, if there is a clear limit to 3D printing, it's intellectual property law. 3D printing a patented object without a license is a clear violation of patent law. (The rub, of course, is that patent applications can often include enough detailed plans to make 3D printed counterfeiting easy.)
That means that patent, copyright, and trademark disputes are set to explode in tandem with 3D printing. And 3d printing is really exploding. We're not just talking about 3D printed bombs, here. The 3D printing industry grew by $4.1 billion in 2014 and is expected to quadruple by the end of the decade.
One Person's Crisis is Another's Opportunity
The growth of 3D printing poses major problems for companies seeking to protect their IP against unauthorized use and reproduction. In 2013, the IT research and advising firm Gartner predicted that 3D printing would lead to "a loss of at least $100 billion per year in intellectual property globally" in the near future. Even Kanye West is worried about 3D printing and he came to fame during the height of illegal music downloading.
Companies -- and their lawyers -- can help prepare for and address the risks 3D printing poses. When it comes to patent prosecution strategies, lawyers at Benesch suggest considering Bouregard claims, claims directed at 3D models, and claims that go after a method of scanning and replicating protected objects. Benesch also advises companies to mitigate against risks by selling official design files, negotiating licensing agreements with "maker" websites, and applying for copyright protection where possible. All of that will provide opportunities to lawyers skilled in IP law.