The digitization of production has already begun and the 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing plays a key role in this. Companies should use 3D printers - and deal intensively with the legal risks about liability issues or piracy.
Last year, there was hardly any medium that did not reported about 3D printer and 3d printing, the maker scene or new applications of additive manufacturing processes in the industry. That said, the digitization of production has already begun. The production of workpieces by means of a generated 3D model on the computer is today reality, though there are the stringent quality requirements. Initially, 3D printing is a method for the production of prototypes and are already used in mass production in aircraft today.
Airbus will early 2018 equip the first aircraft with additively manufactured chassis parts, which indicates that industrial 3D printing has reached a high level of development. It proves that machine is much more than a toy for home or a tool for small businesses.
It is about intellectual property rights and liability issues
Therefore, it is high time that companies involved in the manufacturing sector seek the legal challenges of additive manufacturing. 3D Printer will indeed change production and logistics, but also requires careful design of contractual relations, in which the correct assignment of intellectual property rights and liability issues must be considered forward-looking in particular.
Companies expect that the additive manufacturing will drastically reduce their inventory, and make the production of goods possible on demand instead, so no dead stock needs to be made “for the masses”. Consumers no longer need to wait until your product is available, but can “anytime and anywhere” purchase products that are tailored to the individual needs - exactly as is required by the current trend towards so-called mass customization.
3D printers shorten supply chains
In addition, the additive manufacturing has the potential to shorten the supply chain from producer to consumer considerably since theoretically product can be produced wherever there is space for a 3D printer. Now if you could print materials more diverse and effective, it can also cause a return transfer of production from low-wage countries to Europe ( “Re-shoring”), especially as cost savings are realistic.
Increase in piracy is imminent
Companies should not wait too long with the entry in the additive manufacturing. And they should make sure that their intellectual property is protected by contracts, the related - address risks – but can be quite controllable. Further, because 3D printers becoming more powerful, it is also becoming cheaper and so is expected to further increase in the already rampant piracy. Therefore companies need to protect themselves so that their artwork and 3D models do not fall into the wrong hands.
High resolution images can be easily 3D scanned
In addition, a design can be copied and created by simply scanning the original product. This no longer requires expensive equipment, in fact you can today use a commercially available smartphone and an application such as the recently announced Microsoft “Mobile Fusion app” or the “123D Catch app” Autodesk to scan an object. The supplier 3D Systems provides for industrial applications with the “Capture 3D” - scanners at its own system for the bridge from the physical object to the CAD program, and handheld professional 3D scanners like the “ArtecEva” allow the creation of high-resolution 3D scans in a few minutes.
3D printing technology
Protecting your work due to hacker attacks from the outside is not the only problem, but also by disgruntled employees, to pass on the artwork to competitors. It is therefore strongly recommended to treat the artwork as the new crown jewels and protect against unauthorized access by third parties. This includes not only the careful handling of the data and their storage in a well secured environment; also suppliers, service providers and partners must be contractually obliged to take the necessary technical and organizational measures to protect the data. If an unwanted outflow of data occurs, management can quickly fall into the liability if it has not taken all the measures to ensure the protection of the artwork.
Check rights to protect intellectual property
If the 3D model has been copied illegally, intellectual property rights are the right tool for mitigation or prevention. In addition to the copyright there is patents and utility models: registered designs and trademarks is there to protect three-dimensional shape of a product.
Further, since most products are now designed using CAD software to generate 3D models it will thus in future form a blueprint of digital production, every company should consider what can be used as a protection for its intellectual property and what steps is needed to be taken to reach that protection level needed.
The intellectual property rights is there for you but you will need to rethink the age of digital production: Until proven methods here is a sign for you: At the border controls in German customs in 2014, it resulted in the seizure of 35 million counterfeit products. If these product was instead made locally through 3D printing and 3D modelling the cross borders for goods will not have as much impact as it should.
Clarify: What does the supplier do with the 3D models?
Companies that wants to manufacture their products or components with the help of a 3D printing service provider needs to definitely make clear about the agreements about the purpose for which the 3D models may be used for, for example how many workpieces can be produced with the design. That may, unlike in the IT industry, where the conclusion of license agreements is part of the daily work, yet be unfamiliar to many companies in the manufacturing industry. Without any regulation such as obligations to return all print templates, data and documents, the client can quickly lose control of the additive contract manufacturing.
Clarify: Who owns the rights to the work results?
If a portion of the production is outsourced to external service providers with relevant expertise in additive manufacturing, it is also important to question of who gets the rights to the work results achieved. The German and European copyright law says that employer get the rights to all works that have been created in compliance with the obligations under an employment or service relationship; but that does not apply to copyrighted work results that are achieved by freelancers or external service providers.
For industrial 3D printing the result of a print is often an object made with much less material and less weight than made with traditional manufacturing. For some service provider with lots of know-how in additive manufacturing may even go so long as to improve the clients design resulting in a print with the same or even better strength. Some clients even ask the service provider to make improvements to the original parts. When this happens it often raise questions. Who will then own the usage rights of the improved object and who are entitled to the copyrighted work results, the supplier or the technical inventor? Improved components or spare parts made by OEMs can draw unexpected consequential costs.
Unclear liability for printed products
As there is still not any direct rule or clarification of liability for products produced by additive processes it raises questions as who ultimately bear the responsibility for product defects.
For example, what determine whose fault it is if a carmaker buys a certain customized 3d printed vehicle parts from a supplier and it later breaks in the end-customers end due the fact that it cannot withstand the load? In this case the fault may be in a design flaw in the 3D model of the original manufacturer or to a faulty installation by the so-called “assembler” who has put together the components fault at the factory to the final product. If it is the latter case it means that the supplier can relieve against a client. No matter, in the future the industry have to make a complete documentation of the entire production process from the receipt of a master to delivery of the finished component to know who is responsible for what if problem occur, and it will.
Further, additive products produced must comply with the applicable safety requirements. For example particular products such as pharmaceuticals and medical devices or even toys needs to have a special certification that state that the 3d printed objects is free from any health risks.
3D Printing Leader USA and China
The market leader in the additive manufacturing scene and the development of new systems and procedures have currently, been the US, where the Obama administration has provided funding in billions. China also pursued 3D printing in a national plan to promote the additive manufacturing ambitious goals. Europe and it technology powerhouse Germany is however still not left behind.
The creation of new standards or quality standards especially consistent development of the IT and network infrastructure in and secure cloud services will be needed. Only when this is done on a broad basis, digital production can reach their full potential. It is not yet clear to all that the additive manufacturing raises numerous legal questions that are not to be expected to solve with the laws in force today alone. It requires a close exchange of business with the legislature and politics, in which the engineers, corporate counsel and lawyers should contribute.
Note: This article was translated from a German article, most of the information in the original article is mend to the Germany 3D Printing Scene and how Germany can improve themselves as a technology beast with 3D printing.
This translation changed some of the aspect for an international audience.
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