The intellectual property right most commonly focused on at the intersection between 3D printing and intellectual property rights is patents, immediately followed by copyright. Then come the models and design rights and, in the background, barely visible, there are the trademarks.
Sure, some commentators have examined the consequences of 3D printing a product bearing a mark, finding that this could amount to a trademark infringement. The same however applies if you use a traditional 2D printer to print a label bearing a third party’s mark.
Things become more interesting if you imagine yourself in a world when 3D printers are fully established and commonplace, so that most goods, or at least a significant number of them, are manufactured/printed on premises either by the retailer or by the customer.
Purchases from these retailers will actually mean authorizations to print one or more of the goods, which may be heavily personalised, including, when appropriate, its trademark. The retailer or the customer will then become, to some extent, a trademark licensee, attracting a number of consequences from the acts this subject will be entitled to carry out.
Some of the restrictions and controls that the trademark owner may be interested to introduce could be related to the quality and features of the printer and of the materials used to manufacture the goods: a luxury brand would not appreciate having its accessories printed with cheap materials, even if they were legally purchased and paid for.
The next step could be the development of signature materials, available only to the customers of certain brands. Those materials might influence the appearance of the goods, their technical characteristics and at the same time show and confirm the legitimate nature and origin of the products.
A trademark law practitioner would immediately recognize, in this list, the functions that a trademark could fulfill and that only some famous marks are already able to perform.
Add 3D printers and you obtain additional fascinating possibilities to establish a strong link between a product, its appearance, materials, manufacturing techniques, and a specific source. This technology creates a new dimension for trademarks, too!