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3D Printing - Legal Implications of Revolutionary Technology

3D printing technology will be at the centre of a global crime wave by 2018, claims an alarming report by US IT research and advisory company, Gartner.

The rapidly expanding capabilities of 3D print technology coupled with the plummeting price of 3D printers presents an opportunity to criminals that’s just too tempting to ignore. The report claims that intellectual property thieves will steal in the region of $1 million every year by 2018 and that most of these criminals will reside in the West, rather than in Asia as was previously predicted.

Importantly for the thieves it would not even be necessary to reproduce the finished product for an intellectual property theft to take place. A wax mold could be created on a 3D printer by using a scanned object and the criminals could then mass-produce huge quantities of the counterfeit product which would to all intents and purposes be an exact replica of the original.

Legal firms worldwide will no doubt be waiting in the wings to capitalize on the predicted global intellectual property crime wave; but have they missed the proverbial boat closer to home? There is currently a large grey area surrounding 3D printed products and intellectual property theft and the legal world has been somewhat overtaken by a veritable tsunami of technological advancement.

3D printers at affordable prices are now widely available for home use and the capability to print objects in different materials is growing at a phenomenal rate. Where would I stand, for example, if I were to scan a pair of Jimmy Choos worth £500 and print them using my home 3D print set up? They look exactly like the real deal, a perfect replica in fact, but they only cost me a fraction of the price. Am I guilty of intellectual property theft or would that only apply if I were to then print out a dozen copies and sell them to my friends and family for £25 a pair?

I suspect not. For a start, the authorities are likely to be far more concerned about a flood of cheap knock-offs entering the market place (to join those cheap ‘Rolex’ watches and cigarettes that are already out there) than they would be about my few pairs of shoes. And how on earth would private 3D printer use be policed? The whole matter certainly provides food for thought.

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Alison Page

About Alison Page

Alison is a small business owner, freelance writer, author and dressage judge. She has degrees in Equine Science and Business Studies. Read her full story at

Alison Page

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