3D Printing: The New Industrial Revolution?

 CanadaFashionLaw recently participated as a panelist at a fashion law symposium in Chicago. Overall, the theme of the symposium examined technology’s role in fashion. Specifically, CanadaFashionLaw discussed intellectual property implications for the fashion world in its incorporation of 3D printing and scanning technologies.

Whereas another panelist heralded 3D printing as creating a new world order in the global supply chain, CanadaFashionLaw took a more measured approach. This is not to take anything away from the sheer impressive awesomeness of 3D printing but to some extent we’ve seen similar digitization movements before. So, will there be a new world order?  Likely, not. Will it impact the marketplace and provide more opportunities?  Likely, yes. Let us explain.

3D printing is exactly what it sounds like. The ability to print 3-dimensional objects from a printer. Although this technology has been around for a number of decades, it has only recently caught the attention of the mass market. The foundational patents that provided market exclusivity expired and now the technology is open to all to use. As such, given that there is a proliferation of 3D printing and scanning companies (and also given that the technology has evolved to iron out the kinks), 3D printing is cheaper and more accessible. Whereas 3D printing was restricted to large companies and used for prototyping, 3D printing has now gone to mass market. This facilitates the democratization of manufacturing, whereby small companies and individuals can build their own products with relative ease.

Of course, this raises huge intellectual property concerns. If you start to print objects that are the subject of patent, copyright and trademark protection, are you infringing intellectual property rights?  Where does the liability fall: with the individual printing the object or with the CAD-file provider or both?  Will the proliferation of counterfeit products become even more rampant?  How practical are enforcement attempts?  Should there be a distinction between private and commercial use?

There is no doubt that technology is a hare and law is the tortoise in terms of evolution. However, there are lessons to be learned from previous technological developments that can be applied to this new development. For example, similarities can be drawn from the digitization of the music industry. Yes, the retail model of the music industry was altered by the proliferation of MP3′s but the foundation of copyright protection afforded to the music industry largely remained the same. Applied simply to the 3D printing world, if you start printing 3D objects where a 3rd party owns intellectual property rights to that object, you are exposing yourself to risk.

If you want to chat more about 3D printing and its application to the fashion industry, feel free to reach out to CanadaFashionLaw or check out the Spreading the Word page for upcoming and past speaking engagements, published articles and journalistic commentary.

 View more from Canada Fashion Law. Follow Ashlee Froese on Twitter at @BrandFashionLaw.

(c) Ashlee Froese, 2013. All rights reserved.
The contents herein are for informational purposes and do not constitute legal advice. It is strongly recommended that you seek a professional legal opinion in the event of a legal dispute.

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