I’m starting to get interested in the legal implications of 3-D printers. As you may know, a 3-D printer can, in essence, build objects from drawings if you input the right raw materials. The cost of these devices is falling and their precision is increasing. Consider how this could pose problems for traditional IP and regulatory law:
1. I need a replacement part for something. Instead of buying one, I get my 3-D printer to make one. If that part is patented, then I am guilty of patent infringement. But what can the patent owner do about that?
2. I want to make a 3-D model of a fabulous new building for my child. The building is copyrighted by the architect. I am guilty of copyright infringement, but what can the architect do about that?
3. Patent and copyright owners could sue 3-D printer manufacturers for contributory infringement. Since these devices have significant non-infringing uses, though, that challenge would probably fail under Sony and Grokster.
4. Moving beyond IP law, any statute that restricts or prohibits the possession of an object is vulnerable. Suppose we ban certain kinds of ammunition. The 3-D printer can make me some at home. Ditto for anything so long as it is small enough. What can we do about that short of increasing the punishments for people for are found to possess the banned items?