Dids Macdonald, CEO at Anti Copying in Design (ACID) discusses 3D printing, and offers a review of the organisation’s recent conference on that very subject.

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Dids Macdonald, CEO at Anti Copying in Design (ACID)

3D printing, hailed by many as the 4th industrial revolution, was the subject of a recent Anti Copying in Design (ACID) conference, supported by the Alliance for Intellectual Property which brought together industry experts, the Police, Trading Standards, Government and policy makers to discuss and debate the 3D printing opportunities and intellectual property issues which may become a challenge in the future.

Why is it a good time to discuss 3D printing in the context of IP?

Nick Kounoupias, ACID’s Chief legal Counsel and CEO and founder of KounoupiasIP set the scene by describing a light bulb moment at a visit to the 3D printing company iMakr where a demonstration of 3D printing took quite some time. He made the analogy when, historically, to ‘dial-up’ and download music took hours. Cynics at the time said “it will never catch on and it won’t be a problem”. What subsequently transpired was exactly the opposite when technology improved, making the downloading of music occur in seconds, and opening the door to wide spread counterfeiting and organised crime. It caught the music industry by surprise. Within an incredibly short period of time the music sector had to gear up to provide well resourced piracy units, new technology and anti piracy teams to protect this sector.

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Every now and then a new technology emerges which has the potential to demolish existing ways of manufacturing or delivering product and of doing business generally; and in so doing trampling upon existing legal protection for creators and designers of product. Thirty years ago this was happening through the emergence of digital technology and its repercussions on analogue industries (think vinyl being replaced by the CD), twenty years ago it was the arrival of the internet and the worldwide markets opened up to instantaneous delivery of perfect copies of content, and ten years ago the emergence of cross platform software that enabled smart phones and TVs to appear, transforming the mobile phone in your pocket into a small but incredibly powerful computer overnight.  

Up until now the furniture industry has been relatively unaffected by these digital developments, but appearing on the horizon is a technology that could turn some sectors of the design, engineering, technology and manufacturing industries on their head and that is three dimensional printing (3D printing). With 3D technology developing at break-neck speed, opening new horizons to make bespoke 3D object is easy, fine tuning prototyping and tailoring manufacturing as never before. Does this present opportunities for mass counterfeiting? And what could be done now to help address these concerns?

Every now and then a new technology emerges which has the potential to demolish existing ways of manufacturing or delivering product and of doing business generally

 What is the current status of the IP law?

In the UK the intentional copying of a registered design is now a criminal offence but the majority of UK designers and manufacturers rely on unregistered designs so currently, there is no criminal provision for the majority of designers and manufacturers to rely upon. Therefore, there is no real deterrent against IP crime, leaving the door open to those who take the fast track to market through unauthorised copying. ACID is continuing to campaign to Government and policy makers to extend criminal provisions for the infringement of unregistered designs and they are starting to listen.

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Morgan RIO range


What is 3D Printing and its application in the furniture sector?

Rodney Morgan, MD of Morgan Seating used 3D printing in tangent with traditional design in the creation of the RIO range, he said: “We wanted to use the technical creativity of digital design to create the forms for us in our RIO designs.  This differentiates us further as we chose to use a mathematical algorithm that alters the design slightly and progressively so that no two chairs or tables are identical”. All great opportunities from 3D thus far, but what about the threats and IP challenges to us?

“How can we register that design?  Do we register each chair or table that we decide to produce?  What about the possibly 1000’s of options that we choose not to manufacture, but that are as a consequence of our original design idea?

 “3D Scanning - clearly, colour scanning has for some time now allowed the unscrupulous to copy 2D designs – floor coverings, wall coverings, textiles etc. and send those images all over the world to whomsoever was willing to copy. 3D printing is a gift to copiers and pirates and enables portable manufacture and pursuing copyists will be like suing a mirage. The change of pace will be much faster than anyone will have expected. However, at Morgan we are fortunate and have a robust and proactive IP strategy in place to enforce our design rights so we are ahead of the game.”

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Rodney Morgan, MD, Morgan Seating

Ewan Grist of ACID Affiliates lawyers Bird & Bird offered some advice:

Can I 3D print whatever I want?

If you are 3D printing an article which you designed, there’s no problem. If you are 3D printing an article which was originally designed by someone else, you may well be infringing their IP rights. If the article also bears a third party’s trade mark, you could be infringing that trade mark if you were then to offer or sell the article.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes. Firstly, designs rights and copyright only last for a certain period of time (ranging from three years up to seventy years after the death of the creator, depending on the right). If protection has expired, then the article can be freely copied. Secondly, design protection is usually not available for spare or component parts, so these can sometimes be freely copied. Finally, there are certain exemptions where articles are made solely for private and/or for non-commercial purposes.

If I pay to download a 3D design file (i.e. a CAD file) from the internet, do I have the right to 3D print an article to that design?  

Not necessarily. It still depends on whether you have the consent of the original designer. Just as with downloading music/films, there are certain websites from which you can download authorised files and others where the files are unauthorised.

Am I ok to use a 3D scanner to create my own CAD file?

It depends on what you are scanning. If you are scanning someone else’s article without their permission, then the 3D printing of the resulting CAD file could still infringe their rights.

How can I protect my own original designs?

There are a variety of rights, registered and unregistered, which may be available to you. For designs that are particularly important, get them registered to give more robust, longer protection. However, the ACID Copyright & Design Databank is also a good to lodge designs and a third party and provide evidence of unregistered designs.