IP in the 3D Printing World


3D printing refers to the process where an object is transformed into a three-dimensional figure. Basically it is transformed into a physical object in which the molten material is built up in layer until the final figure emerges. It started gaining popularity in the 1980s in the US. It is advantageous for the innovation-related companies because they do not have to pay for the costly prototypes. However, one of the main concerns regarding 3D printing is that it allows for copying any object even without taking prior permission. This is why intellectual property rights are necessary to prevent its misuse. In this article, I will discuss how the IPR regime ensures the same.

Copyright Protection

Article 11 of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Treaty says that the contracting Parties should give adequate legal protection against circumvention of technological measures that are used by the authors. Thus, an object and its 3D print file could be marked with a unique identifier to monitor its use. Similarly Article 6bis of the Berne Convention says that an author can object to distortion, mutilation or other modification of its work which would be prejudicial to its reputation. These are some of the moral rights which are given to an author. Now if a 3D Print file is given same protection like that of a software or database, then the author can protect against unauthorized use. Copyright protection is granted to films and music as well.

Grey Areas

However, there are also people who print objects in their home. These activities would not constitute violation of any intellectual property right because it is done for non-commercial use. For example, Article 6 of TRIPS excludes trademark infringement which are not done ‘in the course of trade’. Thus, when an object is printed only for personal use, it does not involve any intellectual property right infringement. However, there are still some grey areas in the law. For example, ownership of a work is not clear when the work is conceived by someone, digitally modelled by other and printed by another person. Such a lack of clarity also affects in attributing liability in case of infringement. This is because only the original owner of the work could sue someone for infringement.


The UK Intellectual Property Office has suggested that the mechanism of licensing could be brought in 3D Print work just like it is used for safeguarding musical works. However, the same organization also acknowledges that 3D Printing technology is still at a nascent stage and the development has been slow. It is still not in the position to replace the bulk production in factories as part of manufacturing processes. As far as India is concerned, there is still no judicial pronouncement regarding this issue. Hence, its protection is still unclear in India.