3D Printing: The New Frontier of IP Theft

January 16, 2015 by Samuel Beavers, Associate
New technology has a tendency to produce new legal questions and 3D printing is no different. While many are excited about 3D printing’s potential, many are also concerned about its pitfalls, including the potential for $100 billion dollars per year in intellectual property theft according to the technology research firm, Gartner. An article posted recently on 3dprinting.com highlights how these issues are coming to the forefront.

The case that is the centerpiece of the article involves a dispute between Align Technology, Inc. and ClearCorrect Operating, LLC. Align is known primarily for its popular product Invisalign, which itself represents a breakthrough in 3D printing technology. With Invisalign, a digital scan is taken of your mouth and a 3D printer is used to create a mold that conforms perfectly to your teeth. Align’s patents cover this process of converting a scan of your teeth to a digital file to a 3D mold.

ClearCorrect used a similar process.   The US International Trade Commission reviewed the dispute and determined that ClearCorrect did infringe on Align’s patents, which means that “articles” for the purposes of intellectual property law need not be based on tangible products.

The implication here is that the 3D printing world may be “on the cusp of their own digital patent war,” said Professor Lucas Osborn of Campbell School of Law, similar to how the music and movie industries fought back against the advent of peer to peer networks. “You can basically [share 3D files] now as easily as you can share an .mp3 file.” Osborn said.

This ultimately begs two questions: will courts find the use of digital files as an infringement of the physical object; and will such claims be effective preventive measure against individuals who want to reproduce their own clear plastic braces or whatever other product they covet.

For more information on the case and on the article visit http://3dprint.com/34255/itc-intellectual-property/.

For more information about Ice Miller’s Additive Manufacturing/3D Law practice, please contact Ice Miller. 

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