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Monday, April 26, 2010

The Intellectual Property Implications of Low-Cost 3D Printing

1. Introduction

Throughout recorded history most people who have wanted a household article have bought or bartered it from someone else – in past times an artisan or trader, more recently a seller of mass-produced products. With few exceptions (such as some clothing) it is rare that any of us make such articles for ourselves these days. That may soon change. Thirty years ago only dedicated enthusiasts would print their own photographs or edit and reproduce their own newsletters. The advent of the home computer, and in particular of low-cost high-quality printers, has now made such things simple and commonplace. Recent developments in producing affordable and hobbyist-friendly printers that can reproduce three-dimensional rather than just flat objects may mean that printing a toast-rack or a comb becomes as easy as printing a birthday card.

Any lawyer familiar with copyright and trade mark law can see, however, that printing one’s own birthday cards could, depending on the source and nature of the images used, infringe a number of intellectual property (IP) rights. Tempting as it may be to copy and use a picture of a well-known cartoon character, the resulting cards would very likely be an infringement of the copyright and perhaps trade marks owned by the relevant rights holder. But what if someone uses a printer capable of producing a mobile phone cover bearing such an image? Or reproducing a distinctively-styled piece of kitchenware? What about printing out a spare wing-mirror mount for your car? Do these uses infringe IP rights?

In the first part of this paper, we review the history of 3D printing and describe recent developments, including a project initiated by one of the authors to bring such printers into the home. We then examine the IP implications of personal 3D printing with particular reference to the bundle of rights that would typically be associated with a product that might be copied.

2. Personal 3D Printing: The Technical Aspects of Home Manufacturing

2.1. A Brief History of Manufacturing

People have three ways to make solid objects:

  1. Cutting shapes out of a block of material;

  2. Adding material piecemeal to build up shapes; and

  3. Forming material that is liquid or plastic into the required shapes that then set.

All forming processes are secondary in the sense that the dies and moulds for them must initially be cut or built by one of the other two primary processes. Pre-industrial examples of these three are carving wood, bricklaying, and moulding a jelly.

Since the industrial revolution, an enormous number of variations on these three techniques have been developed and pre-industrial techniques have been much refined. Cutting and forming have, in particular, received a great deal of attention, resulting in sophisticated lathes and milling machines for cutting, and injection-moulding and die-casting machines for forming. 

Just after the Second World War, John Parsons invented the idea of numerical control.1 In this, a manufacturing machine has all its parameters and variables continually controlled by a computer, allowing a previously hand-controlled process to be completely automated. A typical numerically-controlled machine tool is a lathe or a mill that can produce a complicated-shaped part from a simple block entirely without human intervention. This idea has been called the Second Industrial Revolution, and - directly or indirectly – it is the basis of virtually every engineering product that is made and sold today.

Since the creation of the microcomputer in the late 1970s the cost of numerically-controlled machine tools has fallen dramatically and it is now possible for organizations of modest means (such as schools) and also private individuals in the developed world to own lightweight ones. However, the vast majority of all these machines - heavy and light - are still cutting machines, as opposed to additive or moulding machines.

Numerically-controlled cutting machines suffer from an inherent problem: given a computer model of a shape to be made, it is extremely difficult to compute the paths that the cutting tools have to follow in order to make that shape automatically. The more complicated the shape, the more difficult this problem becomes. Further, it is straightforward to design shapes that are perfectly valid three-dimensional objects but that cannot be cut out at all. Almost all these problems stem from the fact that the tool doing the cutting and the device attaching it to the machine must not strike any part of the object being cut except at the point where the actual cutting is happening.

2.2. 3D Printing

Until the late 1970s the alternative primary manufacturing idea - adding material - had received comparatively little attention (except in the electronics industry for chip manufacture, where it was, and still is, ubiquitous, if microscopic). But in 1974 a joke was written and in 1977 a patent was granted that caused that situation to change.

The joke was by David Jones, writing his column under the pen-name “Daedalus” in the New Scientist.2 He made what he imagined was a tongue-in-cheek proposal that one could shine a laser through a vat of liquid plastic monomer and cause it to solidify along the path of the beam. The photons of light might thereby be made to initiate the covalent cross-linking of the liquid monomer to form a solid polymer. He further proposed that, if the wavelengths were adjusted appropriately, the cross-linking could be made to happen only where two beams intersected, resulting in an intense spot of energy at one point, and that - by computer-controlled mirror deflection - that intense point could be made to trace out the volume of a required solid object.

The patent was granted in 1977 to Wyn Kelly Swainson for essentially the same idea, though he had originally filed the patent well before the appearance of Jones’s piece.3 In Swainson’s system the laser caused covalent cross-linking at the surface of the liquid monomer and the object being manufactured rested on a tray that was gradually lowered into the vat.

This was the start of the 3D printing industry, which engineers sometimes call the rapid prototyping industry. (The latter term has become less current over the last few years – the field is evolving rapidly.) It was called “rapid” because one-offs could be made much more easily and quickly using it than by conventional numerically-controlled machining and it was called “prototyping” because it was too slow and expensive to be used for production (it could not compete with injection moulding for making many copies of a single item, for example).

The primary reason that 3D printing technology was (and is) so easy to use was that it completely eliminated the tool-path calculation problems of numerically-controlled cutting machines. Because parts are built up layer by layer, there is always a flat-topped surface with unrestricted access for the laser (or other solidifying or depositing device) to gain access to build upon. This makes it very simple to write a computer programme to control the machine from a computer model of the shape required. There are other advantages (and disadvantages) to 3D printing, but this is the most significant one.

Although it is typically slightly less accurate than cutting, 3D printing is capable of manufacturing more complicated and intricate shapes than any other primary manufacturing technology. Most 3D printing technologies work using plastics but technologies such as selective sintering of metal granules have allowed the printing of metal shapes4 and there are systems that can work with ceramics.5

2.3. Home 3D Printing

At the time of writing, the lowest-cost conventionally-made and marketed 3D printing machine (the SD-300 made by Solido Ltd in Israel) was being retailed at about €12,000. Machines range in price from that up to around €300,000 and a typical mid-range machine might cost €40,000. In quick succession after Swainson’s patent, all the obviously possible ways of making objects by adding layers under automatic computer control were patented. Those early patents are now expiring but patents for newer 3D printing techniques continue to be issued.6

One of the technologies developed was fused-filament fabrication.7 This is essentially a computer-controlled glue gun. Molten plastic is extruded from a fine nozzle and laid down on a flat plate by scribbling with the nozzle to form the bottom layer of the object to be made. The plate then drops a small distance, and the next layer is added. Because the plastic is molten when it emerges from the nozzle the second layer welds to the first, and in this way complete three-dimensional solids can be built. This is a comparatively simple technology that requires no hard-to-make parts (such as a laser).

In 2004 Adrian Bowyer realised that 3D printing was such a versatile technology that it ought to be possible to design a fused-filament fabrication 3D printing machine that could manufacture a significant fraction of its own parts.8 Conventional industry has little use for this idea: why sell a machine to your customers that means that they never need to come back to you to buy another, never need to buy spares, or even that allows them to go into production themselves in direct competition with you? But owning such a machine would have real advantages for people in general: anyone who had one could use it to make things, and could also make another such machine and give that to a friend. This is an interesting example of a failure of the market: such a self-replicating machine is an object that people would value, but that it is in no one’s interest to sell. For these reasons it was decided to make the machine and to give all its designs away free under the GNU General Public Licence on the web.9 This was the start of the RepRap project. RepRap is short for Replicating Rapid-prototyper.

RepRap has been a significant success, and is now in its second version (Figure 1).

Figure 1. RepRap Version II, “Mendel” The white part on the blue tray is a component of the machine itself. It was printed from the model depicted on the computer’s screen.

From the beginning RepRap was conceived as a machine that would be owned and used by people in the home to make things, as well as by industry. The cost of all the materials needed to make a RepRap is low - about €400 - bringing it well within the budget of individuals in the developed world (as well as small communities in the developing world). RepRap makes items at a slightly lower quality than the commercial machines do, but at about 1 per cent of the cost.

Any development or improvement of RepRap design, software or electronics arises out of its users’ own initiatives. There is no central institution giving directions: users themselves invest time and thought in the evolutionary process of RepRap design. If they inspire other users they can all team up and combine their efforts. Because of the lack of deadlines for developmental goals, progress is very wide ranging, but it is also admittedly slower than in industrial R&D departments. However, personal ambition to realise their own ideas for the project drives the progress of the users’ work. Involving users in product design by providing tool kits has become more important in recent times.10

The reactions of industry to RepRap have been twofold: the conventional 3D printing manufacturers have (to the best of the authors’ knowledge) ignored it, but there has been a flurry of garage start-ups (for example Bits from Bytes Ltd in Bristol and MakerBot Industries LLC in New York) making very low cost machines that are based on RepRap technology. There is also another significant open-source 3D printer: the Fab@Home machine, which was inspired by RepRap.11 Unlike RepRap, these machines do not copy themselves. They are however all able to make RepRap machines, as are almost all the large-scale commercial 3D printing machines. The asymmetry that this introduces into the population dynamics of 3D printing has not escaped us.

Many companies and organisations have bought these low-cost RepRap derivatives or have built RepRap machines, but by far the greatest majority of owners and users are private individuals. MakerBot runs a popular website ( where anyone may upload and download designs of a great range of items to be manufactured by 3D printers for free.

As technology has become more miniaturised, the possible functionality of a single product has massively increased. This is, of course, useful and space-saving. On the other hand these versatile devices can, because of their large functional content, be rather complicated to handle. This is not always in the interests of the customer, as seen in Cooper.12 Additionally, often not all the functions are used by customers.13 Home 3D printing technology provides a way of manufacturing customised objects which have precisely the features an individual user needs.

All this may be heading towards a world in which people do not buy consumer goods any more but instead download them from the web and print them themselves. They will be able to customise them at will and may avoid some of the environmental and monetary cost currently entrained by the (often global) physical transport of manufactured goods; indeed, work is in train to make RepRap run on home-recycled plastic which would further reduce such costs. In particular, the ability of a 3D printer to, in principle, print a copy of itself, and for both machines to print further copies and so on, suggests that the cost of 3D printing may rapidly fall to the point where it becomes a widely-available technology.

Of course, having many people making few items in the home, instead of few people making many items in factories, is against the idea of economies of scale. But economies of scale are not universal: in the past people took clothes to central laundries to have them washed; now people use their own washing machines. Today electricity is generated in 2 GW power stations tomorrow it may be generated by individual photovoltaics on everyone’s roofs. And industrial printing presses offer far greater economies of scale than the home inkjet printers mentioned in the first paragraph that are – for many types of printing – replacing them.

What might this 3D printer be useful for? Working just in plastic would limit it to producing items not requiring great strength or heat resistance, whilst the fabrication volume would preclude production of large objects (other than in parts). However, as mentioned above, there is a great deal of active research going on to extend the range of materials that these low-cost systems can work with. There are many potential applications.

  • Spare Parts. Many appliances require unique and often expensive spare parts. Often these are small, made of plastic and relatively simple design, and would be amenable to domestic fabrication. Examples familiar to the authors include door parts for washing machines,14 lids for food processors15 and camera lens accessories.16 Significantly, provision of third-party spares has led to many IP disputes.17

  • Craft and Hobby Items. Craft hobbies often require plastic moulds; as with appliance spares, these are often expensive but could be produced with a 3D printer.18 A 3D printer could equally produce items directly, such as model figures for war-gaming19 or specialist add-on parts for model-making.20

  • Educational Uses. School science teaching frequently requires small specialist components for demonstrating or conducting experiments.21

  • Unique Requirements. A 3D printer, allied with user-friendly design software, would allow the ready creation of bespoke items. The RepRap website cites the fabrication of a unique bracket to allow an MP3 player to be attached to the coin-holder in a car dashboard.22 Individually-tailored body-fitting items such as frames for glasses could be produced, an extension of the use of 3D printing to make tailored medical implants.23

  • Fashion Accessories. Existing 3D printing systems have been used to make jewellery.24 Personal 3D printers could add a new dimension (literally) to many forms of fashion art, and allow customisation of personal accessories.

Although discussion so far has assumed home use of low-cost 3D printers, they may appear first in commercial or educational settings such as copy bureaux or schools, just as photocopiers were more common in such venues before combined scanner/printers brought them into the home. These different forms of use are very significant as there are exemptions against infringement of some IP rights for personal or non-commercial use, but not in other circumstances.

3. Introduction to Intellectual Property Implications

Might, however, the promise of low-cost 3D printing be constrained by IP law? Surely, it might be thought, home 3D printing of household items might infringe such rights as copyright, design right, trade marks or patents? The second part of this article will examine such questions. To illustrate the legal issues in question it will consider a hypothetical manufacturer, Acme, which produces a range of goods. Acme’s products are protected by various IP rights, such as design right, copyright, patent and trade mark. A consumer, Bridget, owns various Acme products, but finds that additional items, or spares or accessories for the ones she already has, are expensive. Being a 3D printing enthusiast, she creates 3D designs for such items and uses her personal 3D printer to print them out. She also shares her designs over the Internet with Charlie, who downloads them and prints his own ersatz Acme products. What of Acme’s rights, if any, have Bridget and Charlie infringed?

Such questions have received surprisingly little attention. A comprehensive literature search for legal references to “3D printing”, “rapid prototyping” or related terms found few matches; one referred to the copyright in 3D printing reconstructions of archaeological finds25whilst another briefly noted 3D printing as facilitating the overseas manufacture of patented products.26 Even searching within 3D printing engineering journals found only one article considering the prospect of widespread Internet-enabled dissemination of design files,27 whilst the sole relevant UK case report concerned ownership of copyright in commissioned models; their production by 3D printing was entirely incidental.28 

3.1. Aim and Legal Assumptions

Sections 3 through 7 of this paper are a first attempt to fill this gap. Based on the LLM dissertation of one of the authors (SB) they aim, from the perspective of EC and UK IP law,29 to identify where widespread low-cost 3D printing may impinge on IP rights or where IP law may constrain its development. Perhaps surprisingly, under UK law it transpires that in the scenario presented Bridget and Charlie may not have infringed Acme’s IP rights. Purely personal use of 3D printing to make copies of household objects and spare parts does not infringe the IP rights that commonly protect such items, such as design protection, patents or trade marks. However, there are areas, such as the reproduction of artistic works, where IP rights such as copyright may be infringed. The advent of low-cost 3D printing may therefore pose challenges to several communities: manufacturers, who may be unable to enforce design protection against private users of 3D printing; artists, who may see a new forum for infringement of works previously difficult to copy, and users of low-cost 3D printing, who may face confusion as to what is legitimate and illegitimate use of the technology.

3.2. Intellectual Property Rights and 3D Printing

There are four main classes of IP rights that may be infringed by using a 3D printer, which may be divided into those which require registration and those which arise automatically (unregistered rights):

  1. Copyright is an unregistered right that protects mainly artistic and creative works.

  2. Design Protection exists in both registered and unregistered forms and protects the distinctive shape and appearance of items (in particular those that are mass-produced).

  3. Patent is a registered right that protects novel and innovative products such as mechanisms or pharmaceutical compounds.

  4. Registered Trade Marks serve to inform consumers of the origin (and by association, reputation) of goods.

English common law also provides the action of Passing Off against acts that might confuse customers as to the origin of goods.

This paper will briefly introduce each right and focus on the extent to which it may be infringed by use of a 3D printer and the potential legal defences for such infringement. More detailed discussion may be found in relevant educational and practioner texts, to which reference will be made as appropriate.30 These rights interact and overlap; in particular the interaction between design protection and copyright has been the subject of much judicial interpretation. It is therefore convenient to consider design protection first.

4. Design Protection

Design protection protects the appearance of items, especially commercial products that might not otherwise be protected by patent or copyright law. Design protection may apply to relatively simple products, to components of more complex ones, or to the overall appearance of such “complex products”. In domestic law there are two main forms of design protection: registered design and unregistered design right (UDR). In the wider European context, registered designs may also be registered with the Community Design Register, whilst there is a short-duration unregistered Community design right (UCD). This discussion will concentrate on registered design (for which the domestic and Community provisions are now virtually identical) and UDR.

4.1. Registered Design

The Registered Designs Act 1949 (as amended) provides that registration of a product protects its “appearance of the whole or a part of a product resulting from the features of, in particular, the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture or materials of the product or its ornamentation”31 where a “product” is any industrial or handicraft item.32 The requirements for the registration of designs (such as novelty and individual character) will not be examined in detail;33 however, some of the constraints on what may be registered are relevant to issues arising from 3D printing of spares or parts for repair of a product.

  • Component Parts. A component part of a complex product may only be protected as a registered design if it is both visible to the user in ordinary use (which excludes maintenance or repair) and is of novel and individual design.34 Many spare parts for cars or domestic appliances will be hidden in everyday use whilst many others, even if normally visible, may be of commonplace design, such as a pipe or washer.35

  • Designs Dictated by Technical Function. Features of a product dictated solely by technical functionality may not be protected by registered design.36 This constraint was considered by the ECJ in Philips v Remington37 where Colomer AG opined that protection would not be available where the design was the only way of achieving the required function. Cornish contrasts this with the decision of the House of Lords in Amp v Utilux38 under the previous UK legislation where it was held that whilst an electrical terminal could have been designed in various equally effective ways, all would have been dictated by technical function and so been unregistrable.39 (It would now be unregistrable as an invisible component part.)

  • Must Fit” Exception. A design or design element is not registrable if it comprises “features of appearance of a product which must necessarily be reproduced in their exact form and dimensions so as to permit the product in which the design is incorporated or to which it is applied to be mechanically connected to, or placed in, around or against, another product so that either product may perform its function”.40 There has been little if any judicial consideration of this point, but by analogy with similar provisions for unregistered design right this provision will exclude many spares and accessories from protection if their shape is determined by the need to connect to or fit into or around another product.

The effect of these exemptions is that many items attractive for 3D printing will not be protected as registered designs. Many spare parts are likely to be components or fall under the “technical function” or “must fit” exemptions. The latter also applies to the shape of accessories and customisation items such as covers for mobile phones (but not, as noted below, to copyright artwork decorating them). Furthermore, even if a spare part escapes these exemptions and is protected as a registered design, such protection is not infringed by its use for “the repair of a complex product so as to restore its original appearance”.41 This would cover the 3D printing of a part such as a car wing panel that was normally visible and not wholly constrained in design by its function or fit, but which had to be replicated in order to maintain the vehicle’s original appearance.

Even where a registered design is copied via a 3D printer this would not be an infringement if it were done “privately and for purposes which are not commercial”.42 Both criteria must be met; it is insufficient that copying is not done for profit. Purely personal use of a 3D printer to make items will thus not infringe a registered design, so long as the purpose for which the item was made was genuinely non-commercial. In the introductory scenario therefore, even if Acme’s product is protected as a registered design, neither Bridget nor Charlie infringe that design by making a copy for personal use (although this may not be so if, say, Bridget makes an item for use in paid work from home). However, use in other settings, such as a repair shop, will have to avoid registered designs if it is not to infringe them, unless the “complex product repair” exemption applies. For non-private educational purposes, there is a “fair dealing” exemption,43 but this only applies where the use does not prejudice normal exploitation of the design,44 e.g. by substituting for purchase of the item itself. So if Charlie works in a school and uses Acme test-tube stands, if these are registered designs he could not legitimately 3D-print copies to avoid buying new ones from Acme.

4.2. Unregistered Design Right

UK UDR was introduced by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to help resolve anomalies in industrial design protection regarding the supply of third-party spare parts (especially for cars) that had culminated in the House of Lords decision in Leyland v Armstrong.45 UDR provides protection akin to registered design, but rather than requiring registration it arises automatically, as with copyright. Like copyright it is therefore only effective against actual copying.46 As an unregistered right its subsistence will be a question of law in each case.

UDR subsists in the shape and configuration of an item, but not its surface decoration or method or principle of construction.47 It also excludes features that are required for it to be “connected to, or placed in, around or against, another article so that either article may perform its function” or which “are dependent upon the appearance of another article of which the article is intended by the designer to form an integral part.”48 The “must fit” exception is similar to that for registered design, whilst the “must match” exception is analogous to the “repair of complex products” provision.

  • Originality. To qualify for UDR, a design must be original, defined as not being “commonplace in the design field in question at the time of its creation”.49 In Farmers Build v Carrier50 Mummery LJ noted:

The designs are “original” in the sense that they are the independent work of the designer of the TARGET machines: they have not been simply copied by him from the GASCOIGNE or SUDSTALL machine….Time, labour and skill, sufficient to attract copyright protection, were expended by Mr Hagan in originating the designs of the individual parts. Similarly, he originated the assembly or combination of those parts in the TARGET machine as a whole.

Laddie J’s remarks illustrate that UDR may subsist in individual parts of a design, the design as a whole, or both. Consequently, an allegedly infringing design may be analysed by being broken down into component parts, some of which may be held to infringe UDR whilst others do not. The meaning of “design field in question” was considered in Lambretta v Teddy Smith51 where Jacob LJ held it to be the range of designs with which the designer of the item in question would be familiar.

  • Method or Principle of Construction. In Rolawn v Turfmech52 Mann J summarised prior case law as indicating that this provision prevented UDR subsisting in what he described as abstract, generalised design concepts. Under Mann J’s interpretation aspects of design dictated solely by manufacturing technique or necessitated by sound engineering design will be likely to fall within it. As noted by the Court of Appeal in Landa & Hawa International v Azure53 this provision seeks to prevent a designer gaining a monopoly over a particular way of making a type of product.

  • Must Fit” Exception. The “must fit” exception for UDR has been the subject of considerable judicial consideration. InParker v Tidball,54 the disputed designs were for mobile phone cases, which had both to fit around the phones they were designed for and to allow access to keyboards and displays. Robert Englehart QC adopted the approach of breaking each design down into its components in order to assess whether each element’s design was commonplace and, if not, if it was constrained by the need to fit the phone or if alternatives would have been possible. In Dyson v Qualtex55 the exception was held to apply to those elements of spare parts that were shaped so as to allow them to conform with the product they were to be fitted to. The “must fit” exception has even been extended to designs that conform to parts of the human body, such as contact lenses in Ocular Sciences56 – although in Amoena v Trulife57 it was held that breast implants were not caught by this exemption, as they were too flexible to be considered “constrained” in their design.

  • Must Match” Exception. The “must match” exception is analogous to the “complex repair” provision for registered design. The example of a car wing panel illustrates it well, and has been cited as epitomising this provision, e.g. by Jacob LJ in Dyson v QualtexDyson concerned “pattern parts”, spares which replicated the appearance as well as function of the original manufacturer’s parts, in that case for vacuum cleaners. Jacob LJ distinguished between spares for cars, where matching overall appearance was paramount, and those for more mundane items – such as vacuum cleaners – where it was less so. Without clear Parliamentary intent to exclude spares from UDR altogether, he held that the “must match” exception applied only in the former instance.58

How, then, does UDR affect the use of 3D printers to make copies of items in which it might subsist? The operative phrase is “might subsist”, as being an unregistered right it will be for the owner of the original item’s design to assert UDR. The factors listed above will determine whether UDR subsists – potentially not if the item is a commonplace design or has a shape and configuration determined by the item it “must fit” onto or around.

For 3D printing of spares, the “must fit”, “principle of construction” and “original design” requirements mean that UDR is unlikely to subsist in items that are of mundane design (c.f. the example of pipes or washers noted earlier) or where shape is dictated by the need to fit against another element of a product or is necessary for proper operation. However, as emphasised in Dyson, UDR is by no means excluded for spares, and in particular closely-matching “pattern spares” may fall outside the “must match” exception if they are destined for products where appearance is not critical.

The “must fit” exception would also apply to items such as customised covers for mobile phones although, as was noted with in the discussion of registered designs, this would not cover the use of copyright artwork as surface decoration. But of the other forms of items attractive for copying with a 3D printer many, such as craft and hobby items, would be protected by UDR and so reproducing them may infringe it. Whether they would depends on the statutory exemptions.

For UDR there is no positive provision in CDPA 1988 corresponding to that in RDA 1949 allowing private, non-commercial reproduction of a registered design. Instead, s 226(1) provides that:

(1) The owner of design right in a design has the exclusive right to reproduce the design for commercial purposes—

(a) by making articles to that design, or

(b) by making a design document recording the design for the purpose of enabling such articles to be made.

On its construction s 226(1) implies that the exclusive right does not apply to non-commercial use. This interpretation is supported byCopinger and Skone James, which notes “it seems clear enough that…a person who (for example) makes articles to a design intending to use them domestically does not thereby infringe design right”.59 In the Acme scenario, neither Bridget nor Charlie infringes any UDR subsisting in Acme’s products by 3D printing copies for personal use.

The authors of Copinger dismiss the impact of this provision, commenting that “as a person is unlikely to make many articles with a view to non-commercial purposes, it should in practice create few problems.” This may be true even with personal 3D printers, but what might change is that many more people will be in the position to make such articles. Furthermore, and in contrast with the situation for registered designs, there is no requirement that non-commercial use also be private. Indeed, by confining infringement to commercial use, defined as making an article or design document with a view to selling or hiring it in the course of business,60 the legislation appears to make all non-commercial uses non-infringing. This would include use within educational establishments, or bureau services where a 3D printer is made available for members of the public to use. CPDA 1988 provides that authorising infringement (which, by analogy with copyright, includes permitting infringing activities) is itself primary infringement of design right.61 But this only extends as far as acts that are themselves infringing, which non-commercial use is not. This is a fine point, and it may be argued that if a charge is made for such a service (e.g. at a commercial copy bureau) then the article is actually being made for the purpose of sale; equally, a private school or commercial training centre may well be “commercial” in this sense. If no charge is made though, for instance in a publically-funded school or training centre, then there is seemingly neither infringement of design right or authorisation of such. Taking the example used earlier, if Acme’s test tube stands were protected only by UDR, Charlie could legitimately copy them for use at his school, but not for sale to others.

Genuine commercial use will still be caught by s 226(1). To avoid infringement, business users will have to confine 3D printing to items not protected by UDR (such as spares within the constraints noted above), or will have to licence the right to produce them. This may well be attractive if it allows dealers to avoid holding large stocks of diverse parts, instead 3D printing them on demand from manufacturer’s authorised patterns. As will be discussed below, sale of self-3D printed unofficial spares, even where not infringing UDR, may fall foul of trade mark and passing off law.

4.3. 3D Printers and Design Protection

In summary, the exemptions for personal and private reproduction of registered designs and the exclusion of non-commercial use from UDR protection mean that the domestic use of a personal 3D printer to reproduce an item will infringe neither registered nor unregistered design protection. Perhaps more surprisingly the exclusive right provided by UDR appears not to cover such public but non-commercial users as schools; subject to interpretation, it may not prevent use in a commercial reproduction bureau. Even for commercial use, many items that are attractive for 3D printing, such as spare parts, may be unregistrable as registered designs and excluded from protection by UDR.

Two further issues arise regarding design protection, however: rights in surface decoration of an item to be reproduced by a 3D printer and rights in the design file used by a 3D printer for reproducing an item. Both of these concern copyright, and so will be covered in the next section.

5. Copyright

Copyright is an unregistered right that arises automatically on creation to protect creative works. Different jurisdictions vary as to the works for which copyright can subsist, but they generally follow Art 2(1) of the Berne Convention,62 which provides that copyright shall be available for “literary and artistic works”, where this includes musical and dramatic works and 2D and 3D artistic works. In the UK, CDPA 1988 s 1(a) recognises four classes of work in which copyright can subsist: literary, dramatic, mu

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

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Stratasys Delivers First Shipment of HP-Branded 3D Printers


Event marks milestone in agreement to develop 3D printers for HP

MINNEAPOLIS, Apr 19, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) --Additive fabrication system maker, Stratasys, Inc., (NASDAQ: SSYS), today announced it has delivered its first shipments of HP-branded 3D printers.

Stratasys and HP co-developed the exclusive 3D printer systems, which are being manufactured byStratasys as part of a global manufacturing agreement with HP (NYSE: HPQ), as announced in January.

HP launched its Designjet 3D products in Europe today, making it the only major manufacturer of 2D (or paper) printers in the 3D printer market. The products will be available this May in five European markets: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.

"The agreement to develop and manufacture a product to HP's specification is a milestone for us," says Stratasys CEO Scott Crump. "Today, we're taking a big step in realizing the agreement's potential by demonstrating we can deliver."

"There are millions of 3D designers using 2D printers who are ready to bring their designs to life in 3D," says Santiago Morera, HP's vice president and general manager of its Large Format Printing Business. "Stratasys FDM technology is the ideal platform for HP to enter the 3D MCAD printing market and begin to capitalize on this untapped opportunity."

Technology & Use

Product designers, engineers, and architects who design with CAD (computer aided design) use 3D printers as peripheral devices to "print" or produce a tangible 3D model from plastic or other material to verify the form, fit, and function of designs prior to committing them to production or construction. Designers often seek 3D printers that model with production-grade thermoplastic when they want to best-predict performance of their plastic end-product.

Stratasys manufactures 3D printers under the Dimensionbrand, and it makes 3D production systems under the Fortus brand. Both product lines, as well as the HP-branded 3D printers employ Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology, which creates three-dimensional plastic models directly from a CAD file. The patented process creates parts by extruding semi-molten plastic in thin layers to "grow" the part, layer by layer. The process of producing a part layer-by-layer is known generically as "additive fabrication" or "additive manufacturing."

Pioneer & Leader

The term "3D printer" was coined by Stratasys when it introduced its first compact system co-developed with IBM in the mid 1990s. 3D printer is now widely used to describe a segment of additive fabrication machines that generally connotes a compact, low-price unit that is quick and easy to operate. Stratasys was an early pioneer of the additive fabrication industry as well as its 3D printer segment. The company has a seven-year track record as the industry's unit sales leader, and it has an industry market share of 43 percent, as well as a market share of more than 50 percent for the 3D printer segment. The company's ongoing leadership demonstrates customers' long-term satisfaction with its products and FDM technology.

The technology to produce 3D models directly from a digital design has been commercial for more than 20 years, but recent advances in 3D printers have dramatically reduced their cost and improved ease-of-use and reliability. Stratasys introduced its Dimension 3D printer line in 2002, with the first printer priced under $30,000. Early last year, Dimension broke the $15,000 (USD) barrier with its office-friendly uPrint, which fits on a desktop.

HP's Graphic Solutions Business - part of the company's $24 billion Imaging and Printing Group - executed the distribution agreement with Stratasys. HP is a leading provider of Designjet and Scitex large-format printing solutions, Indigo digital solutions for commercial and industrial printing, inkjet high-speed production solutions and specialty printing systems.

Stratasys, Inc., Minneapolis, manufactures additive fabrication machines for prototyping and manufacturing plastic parts under the brands Fortus 3D Production Systems and Dimension 3D Printers. The company operates RedEye On Demand, an online service for part prototyping and production. Stratasys also manufactures 3D printers for HP, sold under the brand Designjet 3D. According to Wohlers Report 2009, Stratasys supplied 43 percent of all additive fabrication systems installed worldwide in 2008, making it the unit market leader for the seventh consecutive year. Stratasys patented and owns the process known as FDM. The process creates functional prototypes and manufactured goods directly from any 3D CAD program, using high-performance industrial thermoplastics. The company holds more than 280 granted or pending additive fabrication patents globally. Stratasys products are used in the aerospace, defense, automotive, medical, business & industrial equipment, education, architecture, and consumer-product industries. Online

Dimension, a brand of 3D printers by Stratasys, offers computer-aided-design (CAD) users a low-cost, networked alternative for building functional 3D models from the desktop. The printers build models layer-by-layer using ABS plastic, one of the most widely used thermoplastics in today's injection-molded products. Dimension 3D printers allow users to evaluate design concepts and test models for form, fit, and function. Online at:

Fortus is a brand of Stratasys, Inc., formerly known as the FDM Group. Fortus offers a line of 3D production systems used for direct digital manufacturing and precision rapid prototyping. Fortus systems create manufactured goods or prototypes from industrial thermoplastics, including ABS, polycarbonate, PPSF, blends, and ULTEM* 9085. Online at:

Fortus is a trademark, and Dimension, Stratasys, uPrint, and FDM are registered trademarks of Stratasys, Inc. Designjet 3D and HP are trademarks of Hewlett-Packard.

SOURCE: Stratasys, Inc.

3D printer maker, Stratasys, says it has begun shipping HP-branded machines to Hewlett-Packard. (Photo: Stratasys)


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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Stratasys and HP Sign Definitive Agreement for Stratasys to Manufacture HP-Branded 3D Printers

Stratasys :  , Inc. (Nasdaq: SSYS), the leading manufacturer of 3D printers and 3D production systems, today announced it has signed a definitive agreement with HP for Stratasys to manufacture an HP-branded 3D printer. Used by product designers and architects, Stratasys 3D printers create three-dimensional plastic models directly from 3D digital designs.

Under the terms of the agreement, Stratasys will develop and manufacture for HP an exclusive line of 3D printers based on Stratasys’ patented Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology. HP will begin a phased rollout of the 3D printers in the mechanical design (MCAD) market in selected countries later this year, with the right to extend distribution globally.

“We believe the time is right for 3D printing to become mainstream,” said Stratasys Chairman and CEO Scott Crump. “We also believe that HP’s unmatched sales and distribution capabilities and Stratasys FDM technology is the right combination to achieve broader 3D printer usage worldwide. HP has made a similar move in this market before, capturing a dominant position in large-format 2D printers. Together we hope to repeat this success with 3D printers.”

“There are millions of 3D designers using 2D printers who are ready to bring their designs to life in 3D,” said Santiago Morera, vice president and general manager of HP’s Large Format Printing Business. “Stratasys FDM technology is the ideal platform for HP to enter the 3D MCAD printing market and begin to capitalize on this untapped opportunity.”

HP’s Graphic Solutions Business – part of the company’s $24 billion Imaging and Printing Group – will execute the distribution agreement. HP is a leading provider of Designjet and Scitex large-format printing solutions, Indigo digital solutions for commercial and industrial printing, inkjet high-speed production solutions and specialty printing systems.

Industry Background

Designers and architects that design with CAD (Computer Aided Design) use 3D printers as peripheral devices to “print” or create a tangible 3D model from plastic or other material. The model is created directly from the CAD digital design. The models are used by designers, engineers and architects to verify the form, fit, and functional characteristics of their designs prior to committing those designs to production or construction.

The technology to produce 3D models directly from a digital design has been commercial for over 20 years, but recent advances in 3D printers have dramatically reduced their cost, and improved ease-of-use and reliability. Stratasys introduced its first Dimension 3D printer in 2002, priced under $30,000. Early last year, Stratasys broke the $15,000 barrier with its office-friendly uPrint 3D printer, which fits on a desktop.

Stratasys is the sales leader in 3D printing. Its printers are based on patented Stratasys FDM technology. FDM is the only technology to use high-performance industrial thermoplastics to make prototypes. Click on FDM Process :  for a video demonstration of the FDM process.

Stratasys, Inc., Minneapolis, manufactures additive fabrication machines for prototyping and manufacturing plastic parts under the brands Fortus 3D Production Systems and Dimension 3D Printers. The company also operates RedEye On Demand, an online service for part prototyping and production. According to Wohlers Report 2009, Stratasys supplied 43 percent of all additive fabrication systems installed worldwide in 2008, making it the unit market leader for the seventh consecutive year. Stratasys patented and owns the process known as FDM. ® The process creates functional prototypes and manufactured goods directly from any 3D CAD program, using high-performance industrial thermoplastics. The company holds more than 250 granted or pending additive fabrication patents globally. Stratasys products are used in the aerospace, defense, automotive, medical, business & industrial equipment, education, architecture, and consumer-product industries.
Online at: 

Stratasys, Dimension, uPrint, and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) are registered trademarks of Stratasys, Inc. Other trademarks are property of their respective owners.

Forward Looking Statements

All statements herein that are not historical facts or that include such words as “expects,” “anticipates,” “projects,” “estimates,” “vision,” “planning”, “believes” or similar words constitute forward-looking statements covered by the safe harbor protection of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Except for the historical information herein, the matters discussed in this news release are forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties. These include statements regarding projected revenue and income in future quarters; the size of the 3D printing market; our objectives for the marketing and sale of our Dimension ® 3D Printers and our Fortus TM 3D Production Systems, particularly for use in direct digital manufacturing (DDM); the demand for our proprietary consumables; the expansion of our paid parts service; and our beliefs with respect to the growth in the demand for our products. Other risks and uncertainties that may affect our business include our ability to penetrate the 3D printing market; our ability to achieve the growth rates experienced in preceding quarters; our ability to introduce, produce and market new materials, such as ABSplus and ABS-M30, and the market acceptance of these and other materials; the impact of competitive products and pricing; our timely development of new products and materials and market acceptance of those products and materials; the success of our recent R&D initiative to expand the DDM capabilities of our core FDM technology; and the success of our RedEyeOnDemand TM and other paid parts services. Actual results may differ from those expressed or implied in our forward-looking statements. These statements represent beliefs and expectations only as of the date they were made. We may elect to update forward-looking statements, but we expressly disclaim any obligation to do so, even if our beliefs and expectations change. In addition to the statements described above, such forward-looking statements are subject to the risks and uncertainties described more fully in our reports filed or to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including our annual reports on Form 10-K and quarterly reports on Form 10-Q.

This release is also available on the Stratasys Web site at .

© Business Wire 2010

2010-01-19 12:14:13 - 

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Solidworks Student Edition to STL for 3D printing

From Solidworks Student Edition to STL for 3D printing

If you are a student and learning how to work with Solidworks , your school most likely provided you with the Student Kit version of Solidworks. The Student Kit is student edition of Solidworks and has full access to all its features but prevents you from using for anything beside Solidworks. So when you’re done with your design in Solidworks you can only save the model as a .SLDPRT. A .SLDPRT file is scripted to be used in all Solidworks versions as a single part, but can’t be used in any other CAD software.

Now when you would like to print your design, but you’re stuck with a Student Edition you can turn your .SLDPRT file an .STL file. STL is the most popular file format for 3D printing. This tutorial is meant to let more students upload to Shapeways. But, the information in the tutorial is also great though should your school have its own 3D printer or should you wish to use a 3D printing service bureau.

Step 1: Open E-Drawing

99 out of 100 students will have this software, because its included with the installation of Solidworks. But if you don’t, you can download it here.

Step 2: Open the .SLDPRT file

Open the .SLDPRT file by selecting File>Open Set the filetype to .SLDPRT

Solidworks 3D printing

Open the correct file

Step 3: Save

Then save the file as a .STL File>Save as… Select “Save as type” and choose .STL from the list.


Note 1: If the stl is not an options in the list. Close the file and open the .STLPRT again. If you have saved the file as an Edrawing file or any other file type you might lose the option to save it as a .Stl. That date will be lost once saved as a different filetype (see it like saving a Photoshop file(.psd) to a .JPG) all the background information will be lost.

Note 2: If you would like to save your part first as an Edrawings file(.exprt) Check this box to make sure you can still make it a .STL afterwards. Solidworks 3D printing

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3D printing virus for STL file type

Shapeways was over the past week hit by what we assume is the first virus to affect 3D printing. This virus infected a plug in of a popular 3D modeling package and corrupted files that were exported to STL with that plug in.

A few important things first:

  • the maker of the 3D modeling software and the company that developed the plug in have been notified.
  • the offending plug in has been disabled and a new version is being developed
  • we suffered no major delays as a result of the virus
  • on Shapeways the six community members that were affected by the virus have been notified
  • two orders were impacted by this and did suffer a slight delay but the community members in question have also been notified
  • this virus was basically harmless and more a proof of concept virus than a malicious one
  • we know that some 3D printing companies did have some issues with the virus also but they have informed us that they have contacted all affected customers

As you may or may not know the STL file type is the default file type in 3D printing. STL files turn your design into a lot of triangles. STL files then describe all these triangles and how they are oriented. There are two different types of STLs: binary and ASCII. This virus only affected ASCII STLs. In an ASCII STL each file begins with the text SOLID followed by the file name and ends with the text ENDSOLID followed by the file name. As the offending plug in converted the files into STL the virus simply inserted text into the header of the file. The virus operated much like the Macro Virus' that used to be the bane of Word and Excel documents.We can not currently disclose how the virus spreads because some standards people are looking into that first (along with some bemused anti-virus guys).

So lets say your file used to be called "joris" and the header of the file would therefore start with SOLID joris. The virus would simply insert "SOLID RotherJ" & all its triangles before your text. Once your file was uploaded the 3D printer the printer would read the file and start with SOLID RotherJ and read that "shape" instead of yours. At the end of the virus' triangles there would be the words ENDSOLID. This would tell the printer that it was done reading the file. So what it did, amazingly!, was replace your model with another. If you sent the file for printing to the machine it would print the virus' object and not yours.

One of our community members meant to upload a nice model of a small action hero. Once they looked at the rendering of the file that person noticed that the rendering and 3D view showed a rectangular object. We were very confused originally and looked at the problem in depth. After some days we noticed that the text in the file had been replaced. We were amazed to discover that the replaced file was a crude credit card.

Clearly the offending 3D print was far to crude to fool anyone into thinking it was a real credit card. The file and the 3D print were, we think, only meant as a proof of concept for the writer of the virus. That person simply wanted bragging rights of having created the first virus for 3D printing.

The 3D print on the right lets you see the detail. The card was completely to scale.

The virus itself does point to some worrying signs for the future though. What if your home 3D printer was used to print counterfeit things without you knowing about it? What if you spent a lot of time making something and something awful came out? What could criminals & counterfeiters do with this kind of malicious technology?

The second virus print we tested did however indicate just how far we are from such a scary future. Whilst the Credit Card was crude, this is positively laughable. A 3D printed "watch" that says Jolex. Clearly the technology is years away from properly duplicating a watch.

Here you can see an open image of the watch.

Despite the somewhat underwhelming nature of the 3D prints, this was a huge wake up call however and we are going to work with the industry on virus scanners for objects to counter these threats before they emerge once again.

Please keep us informed should you find any other news about 3D printers experiencing these issues. And please do spread the word just in case there is someone out there that has this problem.

Posted by Joris Peels in ShapewaysSoftwareWhat's Hot


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