If you are an in-house legal practitioner and have not yet connected with 3D printing technology, now is the time. It offers significant business opportunities, though not without legal risk—particularly in the area of intellectual property law. This article will address some of the notable opportunities and risks that in-house counsel need to be aware of.
What Is 3D Printing?
The term "3D printing" refers to the additive process (the laying down of successive layers of materials) by which three-dimensional objects are created from a digital or virtual file (also referred to as "CAD files," or computer-aided design files). When we say materials, forget about ink. The materials that can be used in 3D printing include plastics, polymers, glass, metal, wax, edible food and even human tissue. These materials are dispensed by layers: either (a) from a printer onto a moving/rotating platform, or (b) from a moving nozzle onto a platform in order to create a three-dimensional object. The process of dispensing materials layer by layer is typically referred to as "additive manufacturing." Unlike traditional printing, the 3D process doesn't cover flat paper surfaces with a single layer of dots. It builds multiple layers one on top of the other to create a 3D object.