For a designer or manufacturer, 3D printing is set to transform the industry, as it is an on-demand manufacturing model. It allows the manufacture of most objects from prototype to end product in a matter of hours, resulting in lower shipping and packaging costs. However, it could lead to a loss of sales of genuine products if widespread, unauthorised 3D printing occurs. At the moment, the price of a 3D printer is prohibitive – approximately $20,000 – but they will inevitably become cheaper and enter the mainstream.
Designers and manufacturers need to start now to find the best protection against unauthorised 3D printing by registering their designs. Registration of designs should happen before the product is on the market or promoted anywhere in the world and is valid for 10 years. To be registered, the design is tested against what is already available and then certified if it is novel.
The law contains robust infringement provisions against designs which are substantially similar as well as direct imitations. So creating a 3D model from an original 3D object, attempting to match its design and form exactly, will constitute an infringement of a registered design.
However, the test is strict and would not prevent 3D copies that differ sufficiently from the registered design – including relatively slight alterations. This is particularly relevant in the consumer goods market where there are many products with small variations between them.
There might be other means of protecting your design, including patents or trademarks which a solicitor might be able to help you with.