With a busy holiday season ahead, many shoppers are looking forward to finding that unique gift.  Parents of children who enjoy crafts or building will be especially attracted to the creative possibilities of a home 3D printer.  Kids can make their own jewelry, model cars, and even wearable fashion.  With an industry still in its infancy in the consumer market, I sat down with Brandan Mueller to better understand the legal pitfalls inherent in the expected Christmas season sales bump.  Brandan is Husch Blackwell’s expert on the intersection of traditional consumer protection / products liability law and 3D printing technology.

As Brandan explains, “the technology is moving forward by leaps and bounds. Most companies are at least aware of the intellectual property issues surrounding the 3D printing field.  But less attention has been paid to the implications of warranty and products liability, particularly for lower grade printers made and used by the public.”  Indeed, as the public buys 3D printers for the home or home office, the probability of litigation increases. Inevitably, someone will claim they were injured using a printer or trying to repair one, or that they were hurt using a “defective” product created by a 3D printer.  And these cases will attract the plaintiffs’ bar.  “In 2013, 10 of the top verdicts in the U.S. were products liability claims ranges from $63 million to $22 million dollars,” says Brandan.  He also tracks recent increased scrutiny from government regulators concerning consumer products.  In this climate, manufacturers of 3D printers and materials, as well as software designers need to be wary of consumer-driven product safety.  Brandan names just a few things that companies who sell to the public should be thinking about:

  • Proper labeling
  • Materials testing
  • Misuse analysis
  • Drafting proper warranty and warnings
  • Insurance and other contractual protections
  • Documentation of programs geared towards consumer safety

While no safety program can guarantee a lawsuit-free business, Brandan stresses that a strong product stewardship and compliance program will put a company on the right road.  And such a program is not out of reach, even for smaller firms. Brandan and his team regularly present and meet with companies of all sizes involved in 3D printing.  He understands the technology and the product liability issues – so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.