Legislation 05. 07. 2017

3D printing and intellectual property: who is responsible?

Each new technology brings its own issues and challenges... but also new risks and problems to manage. 3D printing is no exception to the rule. Let's take a look at the rules that govern intellectual property in this sector.

By definition, 3D printing allows the production or reproduction of an object from a 3D file. The use of this technology leads to a certain number of legal questions, in particular on the risks of counterfeiting. The major problem concerns the 3D file, because the 3D materialized object may be protected by a right under the intellectual property code, such as copyright (Article L.122-4), trademark law, design law (Article L.513-4), or patent law (Article L.613-3). Whatever the law protecting the object, the copy intended for a commercial exploitation will be considered as an infringement. The same applies to making a 3D file of a protected object available online. This action alone can be considered as an act of infringement because it gives access to the realization of an illicit reproduction.

There is an exception: that of private copy, that is to say that the reproduction must be only used in a domestic and not commercial framework (articles L 513-6 and L 613-5 of the CPI). This supposes to have in its possession a legal copy of the work. In this case, the 3D file must not have been found online, but must have been made from the authentic product via a 3D scanner for example.

The main problem lies in the hosting of 3D files, whose sources are not always verified. However, 3D file libraries are protected by the law of June 21, 2004, which offers a principle of non-liability with respect to the nature of the content hosted. Most often, this type of platform specifies this in the General Terms and Conditions of Sale to limit their liability.

What about industrial printing?

Unless they are both host and manufacturer, 3D printing companies are less concerned by this legal aspect. Indeed, most often, between professionals, the files are created by the customer who holds the rights. In this case, the 3D printing company acts as a subcontractor to manufacture the part from the file, with exchanges usually protected by a confidentiality agreement.

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