This article is part of a series on 3D Printing and Intellectual Property Rights.
I suppose that with all the talk about IPRs perhaps it’s appropriate to start with some perspective on IPRs.
Intellectual Property (IP) is a very difficult area of law. David Llewelyn, a leading authority on this matter and the author of several widely used textbooks on this subject, once noted that IP has become “…too complicated for the experts.”
One of the reasons I think that IPRs is so complex is that the boundaries aren’t clear. Consider Bruce Springsteen’s admission in his SXSW keynote speech that many of his songs were inspired by the Animals’s We Gotta Get Out of This Place and his follow on quote “Listen up, youngsters, this is how successful theft is accomplished…” Moreover, today’s technologies often build on past inventions – consider late actress Hedy Lamar’s US patent 2292387 which is the basis for spread spectrum technology such as CDMA.
Then, you have the jurisdictional nature of IP law – that is the IP laws of one country do not apply in other countries – notwithstanding the presence of multilateral or bilateral treaties or agreements. Which means that though the principals of IP law are very much similar, there are important differences; for example, in the length of protection or the types of things the laws cover.
Finally, you must be prepared to enforce your IPRs–otherwise what good does it do for you to, for example, get a patent for your invention or a trademark for your product only to let others copy your invention or product freely?
So why do people bother with IPRs or why are there IP laws in the first place?
Let’s say you have created a great song, or invented something after years of work. While you might not mind it if other people took your song or invention and profited from it, you probably won’t like not getting anything for your effort.
One solution would be to make a contract with different people who might, for example, use your invention or play your song. That could work for a few people but if you were trying to do that with thousands, if not millions of users or listeners, this would be unworkable.
So IP laws save you from some of this. You get a trademark, for example, so that people know you have the rights to a particular identifier, i.e. your trademark, instead of having to contract with any number of different parties that might want to buy things with your trademark on them, apply your trademark to things they produce, etc.
IP laws are also designed to promote creative or inventive activity under the premise that such activity benefits society (with more art, music, literature, better technologies to use, etc.) There are IP laws such as copyright that seek to protect art, literature, music, video, and software. In the case of 3D printing, you could use such laws to protect the artistic creations you concoct on your computer and 3D printer. Patents are designed to protect inventive activity and were of great significance in the early days of 3D printing. Then you have another set of rights to protect things that uniquely identify products, services and people such trademarks, publicity rights, geographic indications, and domain names.
Over the next few weeks we shall explore these IPRs in more details.