The last couple of years have seen significant advances in the realm of 3D printing. Importantly, there has been a rapid uptake of the technology across a broad range of industries and disciplines, improved access to printable digital files including by way of on-line marketplaces, a release of mobile phone CAD scanning technology, improvements in printer technology, a reduction in the cost of the technology and access to a wider range of print materials.
By way of example, advances in 3D printing, including the ability to print using biocompatible materials, cells and supporting components, have been harnessed to create blood vessels, heart valves, skin and liver tissue to test pharmaceutical toxicity. The technology has now improved to the point where a 54-year-old Spanish man with a chest tumour has had part of his rib cage replaced with a 3D printed titanium implant.
Not all developments in the technology have been positive. The widely publicised printing of guns using 3D printing technology and the availability of the relevant CAD file for free download forced action from the US Department of State to take down the file. Since the first 3D printed plastic gun was successfully fired in 2012, it is now possible to print metal guns with the more powerful 3D printers. These developments need to be factored into both government and law enforcement policy and strategy around domestic security and public safety.
In line with these technical developments we have seen the emergence of more robust civil enforcement actions to protect against 3D printed replica goods. For example, in 2012 game miniature chain Games Workshop sent a takedown notice to an individual who had designed digital files capable of printing figurines within the Warhammer 40K range on his personal 3D printer. The files had been posted on Thingiverse as a free download, though they were subsequently removed. It will be interesting to see if the recently introduced Australian site blocking legislation provides an effective mechanism to protect IP rights in this space.
For a more in depth look at these developments, see: : http://digital.gtlaw.com.au/3d-printing/