Should “digital instructions for physical products” be protected by US copyright laws

An article in the Wall Street Journal (August 12, 2015″ titled “Digital Patent cases Faces Skeptics”, describes a current appeals court hearing involving ClearCorrect, a company that used digital data from Pakistan to manufacture custom orthodontic devices, thus violating the patents held by Align technology. The question is whether the instructions are equivalent to the devices themselves and thus whether the digital receipt of information should be blocked. This case is of interest as companies that plan to use 3D printing for manufacturing could well have digital instructions developed anywhere else in the world, thus only offering printing services locally. Should digital instructions be held equivalent to the consequent printed objects ? What if the instructions are sold to customers who could then print it themselves, how should the associated intellectual property be protected ? Should the instructions be treated as software or as services or as manufactured goods ?

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60 Responses to Should “digital instructions for physical products” be protected by US copyright laws

  1. Kyle Harshbarger says:

    I think a good way to handle this is to treat digital instructions like this as art. This would allow 3D printing data to be treated like digital music. Pirates will exist, but it allows for a marketplace like iTunes for legal distribution.

    The question then becomes is the code itself the art or is the manufacturing done by the code the art. I think it is just the code. There is too much variation in 3D printing (color, consistency, material, process type) for the manufacturing to be protected as the art of the code designer. This would mean if I legally acquire the code from someone, I can produce as much of it as I want.

  2. Kartik Misra says:

    The primary case in point is respecting I.P., i.e., Intellectual property. Intellectual property can be in a physical form, an idea, or even a recipe or a set of instructions on how to create the physical form of a product.
    Having a digital instruction for 3D printing is similar to having a software CD. The problem arises when the software can be installed “n” number of times on “n” number of machines. Which was leading to potential loss of earnings and piracy, the industry solved this problem through the use of licencing.
    With the era of cloud computing, digital storage lockers, and always connected network. The companies can release different licenses for different purposes as per the requirements of the user.
    A personal usage license can be used to produce products for personal consumption. This can be done by limiting the number of executions that can be done a particular time frame, for example — 12 times in one year or perhaps limiting the number of products to, let us say 50. The product 3D printed can also be printed along with printing a unique identification number and iteration number, that can be used to trace back the owner, along with a message that the product cannot be resold.
    A commercial license can also be launched by the company, aimed at commercial production of the physical product. There can also be a limitation of the number of products that one can manufacture through the commercial license, and as with above, a unique number along with iteration number can be printed on the product to indicate the manufacturer and quantity of the product.
    The licenses can be a yearly renewable or a permanent license depending upon the business structure of the organization.
    Thus in my view, 3D printing instructions should be treated as a licensed product such as a software license, it will not only protect the I.P. but also ensure capital inflow to the organization that wrote the set of instructions, thus ensuring business longevity.

  3. Jayasri Thoppe Kuppusamy Balakrishnan says:

    Wonderful thoughts Kartik, I second your opinion that 3D printing instructions should be treated similar to software product.
    In fact, this case is just a start of the digital printing which gives rise to lot of researches and developments in the field of cybersecurity, not just for Intellectual Property but also for other concerns like Data integrity and security.
    I came up with an interesting read on the same
    https://dataprivacyblog.com/3d-printing-a-cybersecurity-concern/

  4. I think the instruction should be classified at different levels and given different access to disclose the instructions:
    1) General instruction – for example on the instruction on how to use this type of product in common even across different brands for example a clip on how to cook egg should be classified as general instruction and be disclosed to all.
    2) Specified instructions – instructions that may reveal the copyright, patent, or intellectual right that is specifically owned by company or entity should be classified to only to be disclosed with member logins and limit the access to a certain maximum number of devices.

  5. lolryanma says:

    3D printing instructions should not be able to be protected by patent laws. If that were the case, then the original patent owners would have to go after the inducers of the 3D printers, providers of the CAD file, and websites that host the CAD Files. Currently, that is not the case because there are hundreds if not thousands of 3D printer manufacturers. In the case of the providers of the CAD files, they are hard to enforce and track down especially from individual users. Individual users have a multitude of ways to share CAD files which include USB thumb drives, online repositories, or even as simple as an email. Websites that host the CAD files might just be large file sharing websites, that may state in the user agreement that they own the documents or files before uploading.

  6. Ryan Ma says:

    3D printing instructions should not be able to be protected by patent laws. If that were the case, then the original patent owners would have to go after the inducers of the 3D printers, providers of the CAD file, and websites that host the CAD Files. Currently, that is not the case because there are hundreds if not thousands of 3D printer manufacturers. In the case of the providers of the CAD files, they are hard to enforce and track down especially from individual users. Individual users have a multitude of ways to share CAD files which include USB thumb drives, online repositories, or even as simple as an email. Websites that host the CAD files might just be large file sharing websites, that may state in the user agreement that they own the documents or files before uploading.

  7. Hsing Chiao_0031147106 says:

    Agree with Kartik.
    “Digital instructions for physical products” should be protected by US copyright laws, and it’s all about intellectual property rights. Just like many other inventions, we need copyrights protection as a reward to inventors for the time, effort and ingenuity invested in creating new products and processes. And if the instructions are sold to other parties, the associated intellectual property will need to be protected by having IP license agreements.

  8. Yuang Wang says:

    I think it should be protected by copyright laws. In my country, Copyright Law of the People’s Republic of China clearly stipulates: ‘Article 3 for the purpose of this law, the term “works” includes works of literature, art, natural science, social science engineering technology and the like.’ One of the categories is drawings of engineering designs and product designs, and descriptions thereof. Though the law does not explicitly state that the digital instructions is included in the works involved, the digital instructions obviously belongs to engineering designs and should also fall within the scope of copyright law protection. For a designer of a 3D printing product, the copyright of the design work is taken for granted regardless of the design drawing file, the drawing form, or the electronic file form.
    As for self-protect, I think that industry should learn from the watermark design in books or currency. Through the development software and automatically insert small particles to form a watermark into any part of the 3D printing product. It can only be identified by scanning by X-ray or the like.As for how to protect, I think that we should learn from the watermark design in books or currency, and automatically insert the serial number, barcode and other anti-counterfeit symbols into any part of the 3D printing product through the development software to form a watermark.

  9. Akshara Anand says:

    3D printing would soon be everywhere – with major applications in healthcare and military. Due to the high sensitivity of such industries, it would be necessary to put a hold on the information flow – in this case – the code of the printed items.
    As leading companies realise the threat of easy small scale manufacturing and public access to 3D printers creating virtually anything – they would soon take steps, along with the government, to protect their patented technology and products.
    One of the ways for companies working in sensitive industries to protect their property is using their patents to criminalise 3D printing to create their products. Other companies could provide controlled use of their product designs to create similar products – by providing licenses or pay-per-use systems.
    In any case, as 3D printing picks up, there would soon be laws to protect companies’ intellectual property to avoid piracy and unlawful duplication of products

  10. Li Zhao says:

    Physical products printed by 3D printer should be taken as another side of one thing. If the source of digital instructions is protected by the patent copyright, physical products following the digital instruction should be taken as part of the same thing, which is that patented copyright.

  11. Jilan Liu says:

    I think the instructions should be treated as manufactured goods which is actually the orthodontic device itself. These instructions are used to guide and produce a physical product with patents, not any other product. They are the intellectual properties for the company. Use the following example as an analogy.
    If a company utilizes the instructions from a pharmaceutical company to make drugs which have exactly the same formulas and ingredients without the permission from the pharmaceutical company, then these drugs become counterfeit drugs, and this kind of actions results in infringement of intellectual property from the pharmaceutical company. Therefore, the digital instructions should be held equivalent to the consequent printed objects.

  12. Lakshman Rajagopal says:

    The 3D printing industry could draw parallels from music creation about IP and sharing of rights. Copyright laws protect the rights of many people involved in the creation and production of music. These include lyricists, the performers of the song, and the producers (among possibly more entities). Similarly, in the 3d printing industry, copyright laws could distinctly protect the person or company who came up with the design, person doing the 3d modeling, and the person printing.

    This probably would still not completely eliminate piracy or copying. For this too the music industry could lead the way, where introduction of music platforms operating on the subscription model have significantly lowered rates of digital piracy. Likewise, 3D printing could adopt similar models or possibly introduce new ones to reduce unauthorized duplication or copying.

  13. Shih-Feng Chiu says:

    From my perspective, digital instructions should be protected by copyright laws. Nowadays, 3D printers are ubiquitous in the globe. With required materials, models or template, it is not hard to fabricate certain objects. However, there are still some complicated items that require specific instruction to finish. If someone creates the instruction of their own masterpiece of 3D printer’s object, the U.S federal laws are supposed to protect them with copyright laws. I think that digital instructions could be sold like manufacturing goods online or any other platforms, but some associated laws should also be attached to prohibit any commercial purposes or business activities.

  14. Siddharth Sourabh says:

    Protection of copyright laws does apply but the question is how do you enforce it and is it worth the effort and financing to do so?
    What if the companies realign their strategy so that they design the instruction in such a way that it becomes mandatory for customers to buy raw materials from only that particular company. The strategy would be to distinct the raw materials for your final product in such a way so as to force customers to buy from you. In this way, you might lose sales of finished goods as customers can replicate the instructions to produce “n” number of products, but you hold the sales for the raw materials for those same “n” products.

  15. Srijan Saurabh says:

    I believe encryption and a dual authorization for access to the instruction might be a possible solution to the problem. Most of the third world countries still working to introduce a formal legislative bill into force to fight such cyber issues like this. So the organizations involved in collecting the data should be vigilant and make sure that they are using state of the art technology to protect the sensitive data of their customers.
    If the organization have the right to sell the information to the third party again they can limit the use of the instruction by encoding it with dual authorization, i.e., the buyer will have to get access code from the supplier after the number of attempts exceeds the limit.

  16. Dan Sun says:

    This is an interesting case. Digital instructions and physical devices are essentially complementary products. Both cannot live without each other. Digital instructions are similar to “recipes”, while physical devices are “cookers”, the final cuisine is, say “the 3D printing product”. So, from this perspective, I would say:
    1). Digital instructions certainly cannot be held equivalent to the consequent printed objects. Will a recipe become a course? Definitely NO!
    2). Though digital instructions are not equal to the final products, these instructions should be properly protected. By definition, “Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect.” Looking into this case, are those digital instructions intangible creations of the human intellect? Surely they are. So, they should be protected by IP, and not be violated.
    3). Based on what have discussed above, I would say that digital instructions are more likely to be manufactured goods, but not exactly the same. Because when we see books, they also contain human talents, while they are printed in batches. Digital instructions contain human intelligence while, in 3D printing case, they are used to work with physical devices to print objectives. So, from my perspective, it is tricky, and hard to tell a specific category for instructions.

  17. Sumit Singh says:

    I agree with Kartik that piracy leads to lot of losses for the IP holder, which will ultimately hurt R&D operations for future developments. The digital instructions should therefore be protected just like software, and licensing procedures should be brought into picture for these instructions. I also agree that this kind of system will not deter people from creating pirated version of the same, as is the case with all major software (Windows, Office, Adobe etc), but it will at least deter other companies from stealing ideas of others.
    3-D printing is coming up fast, especially in the medical field and thus its important that law makers foresee what are the existing loopholes in the use and application of the technology, so that pre-emptive laws can be framed.
    Another issue with not having control over the digital data and allowing anyone to develop and print equipment is that if such instructions are used for medical application, and things go wrong with the patient, assigning responsibility & accountability will become difficult.
    Piracy kills development, no matter the industry, thus we need to prevent it at all cost and by framing stricter laws for this up and coming technology we can prevent what had happened with the software industry.

  18. Nikhil Nan says:

    For me, this is a pretty straight forward question. I come from the design industry and there the output of a design project is a design file which essentially the manufacturing plant make in to a physical product. So that design file is very much the IP that is created by the design team. If a competitor get that design file, they can pretty much copy those files and make it in to a product. So companies make every effort to protect it by keeping it confidential and signing NDA with manufacturers, filing patents etc.
    Here the case is similar. The print instructions for a product is the result of a design project by a company and it is their IP and it should be protected. When a company’s final product is the digital instructions, then every effort should be made to prevent piracy of it similar to a software product or other creations like songs and movies. Legal protections should be given to such products. However, to what extent law can provide support in such cases will be a question mark. Companies will have to evolve to find right methods of pricing and protecting such products.

  19. Xuan Dong says:

    I came across an interesting article talking about the 3-D printing copy right. It is interesting that not all things can be protected by the copy right. Generally speaking, the non-functional object can be protected by copy right such as decorative objects. On the other hand, functional objects are not within copy right protection. But they can be protected by patents or trademarks. In the align technology case, the digital instructions should be categorized as functional object. Thus, the better way to protect it is using trademarks or patents. Personally, I think, in general, the digital dataset should be protected. As mentioned in the case, if a person has the 3-D printer at home, and download a digital file from an unknown source and then either prints an object by using that file or sells that file to other manufacturers, the party who own the file will financially get hurt. For instance, those manufactures who get the data file start to make products and sell it to the market at lower price, compared to the original owner of the data file. Original owner of the data file will lose market share and may get squeezed out of the market in the worse-case scenario. Misusing digital data files can create unhealthy competition in the market and eventually will destroy the market. Therefore, the digital data files should be strictly protected by related law such as trademarks and patent.

  20. Abhilasha Satpathy says:

    3D printing is not only the next disruptive technology, but also the need of the hour. Since supply chains contribute a large amount to the carbon footprint, 3D printing products and parts locally would go a long way in reducing the carbon footprint of the supply chains. That being said, Intellectual Property rights also need to be strengthened around it. Digital instructions for physical products should be protected, sure, but it shouldn’t make products inaccessible in other parts. The law should be drafted in such a way that a company needs to make sure it has authorized selected people in very part of the world so that a customer has easy access. It also not too different from what’s currently happening. Many companies have authorized dealerships for repairs, application of products, selling spare parts etc. Thus, even repairs should be made accessible to people, while still protecting the original product of a company from being duplicated.

  21. Li Yize says:

    I have an Invisalign from Align and I also compared other company’s product when I chose Align. As a customer, I wish there will be some competitions in the specific area which can provide a fair price and good quality. As a company, those technologies should be consider as a product like music show or Symphony performance. Only if those new technologies or service method be protected, there will be lots of new things to be created in the future.

  22. Shane Bryant says:

    There were a couple of points that I found interesting:
    First, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) was vying for more oversight in their powers regarding the digital age and the spread of goods and services. They argued the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) have both been granted more recent oversight as the digital age has affected the way they protect the people. The ITC has not been granted that power in over 100 years since their original inception of powers. I believe the ITC should be given the at least the minimum of enforcing intellectual property (IP) violations over the internet. This would include the case as given above; I believe the IP should belong to Align and ClearConnect should be liable for infringing on those rights.
    Second, I thought the comment from Kyle above was interesting. I believe we are approaching the same story as the music industry faced in the early 2000’s with piracy. With an expected rise in 3D printing (as happened with digital music players in the 2000’s), I think piracy and IP issues will arise but I believe a company has the potential (similar to Apple) to monetize a collection of these files which can then be accessed to people who own 3D printers (similar to an iTunes store).

  23. Dan Sun says:

    In this case, I can think of an analogy for the relationship between digital instructions and physical devices. It is just like a recipe and a cuisine. A course cannot be made without a recipe, so does the printed object in a 3D printing case.
    Thus, based on my understanding, here are my answers to the 3 questions listed above:
    1). Digital instructions cannot be held equivalent to the consequent printed objects, because essentially, they are complementary products. They cannot exist without each other.
    2). A key to a successful course is its recipe. So is 3D printing product. Digital instructions contain human intelligence and efforts, and they definitely should be protected by Intellectual Property. By definition, “Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect.”
    3). Based on what have been discussed above, digital instructions are more likely to be treated as manufactured goods, but I cannot say they are 100% manufactured goods. For example, in 3D printing case, they are a necessary part for printed objects but cannot be sold as of printed goods.

  24. Gautam Venugopal says:

    Digital instructions certainly need to be viewed as intellectual property of the creators. While US copyright laws need to protect the data from duplication, I feel like the government to could go a step further by introducing digital lockers to store the digital instructions, which would further enhance it’s security and possibly curb piracy rates. This data could be directly fed into 3D printers once they obtain the production license/agreement from the owner of the digital property. This ensures transparency between owner and end user as well.

  25. Dan Sun says:

    In this case, I can think of an analogy for the relationship between digital instructions and physical devices. It is just like a recipe and a cuisine. A course cannot be made without a recipe, so does the printed object in a 3D printing case.
    Thus, based on my understanding, here are my answers to the 3 questions listed above:
    1). Digital instructions cannot be held equivalent to the consequent printed objects, because essentially, they are complementary products. They cannot exist without each other.
    2). A key to a successful course is its recipe. So is 3D printing product. Digital instructions contain human intelligence and efforts, and they definitely should be protected by Intellectual Property. By definition, “Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect.”
    3). Based on what has been discussed above, digital instructions are more likely to be treated as manufactured goods, but I cannot say they are 100% manufactured goods. For example, in 3D printing case, they are a necessary part for printed objects but cannot be sold as of printed goods.

  26. Aanchal Narula says:

    In my view, digital instructions should be protected. With the fast expansion of 3D Printing technology, if 3D Printer’s make their way to an average person’s home, the difference between having the CAD file and the physical object will become increasingly irrelevant. And if you can print a physical object at home/work then the need to purchase it from a mass-produced source almost vanishes. Thus, why bother purchasing from the patent owner?This not only affects the business but undermines the the economic value of these inventions and greatly reduces incentives to engage in innovative activity for inventors. Maybe some protection should be extended to allow the patent /copyright holders to have a say in selling of the digital files.

  27. 3D printing opens up an immense opportunity for innovation & creation. As of now this technology is new enough to set any rules or path for future. I think it is important we allow 3D printing to fully develop before beginning to attempt a solution.
    This technology will follow same path as that of computer eventually lowering the cost and ease of use until it is available to everyone.
    When proposing a solution, it is hard to determine the correct course of action. When 3D printing becomes widely used, the violation of copyright law will increase & control will become more & more difficult. We can compare this to the copyright law of illegal downloads available on the internet.
    While digging out more on this subject, just came up with another blog on 3D printing.
    https://www.jabil.com/insights/blog-main/3d-printing-applications.html

    The part of this blog explains how 3D printing will work as an antidote to medical engineering limitation.
    Any patenting or copyright law will restrict the opportunity 3D printing going to provide everyone to be their own manufacturers and inventors & will create a patent monopoly.

  28. Sanjula Sinha says:

    Having worked in the software industry, I know the importance of licensing and copyrights. The design file for the printing industry is similar to a software application. The risk of infringement is similar in both cases. Granting patents to the design instructions may solve the problem. However, there will be some designers who will copy old designs and patent them. In such cases, the original designer will not be credited. Patent granting should be limited to unique ideas. Otherwise, it will just be copying from the real world and digitalizing it. There should be a separate outlook on granting patents, ensuring that design is original.

  29. Shubham N S (PUID- 0031787007) says:

    Digital instruction cannot be treated as equivalent to final products but at the same time it does not imply that Intellectual property in any form should not be protected. Protecting the Intellectual property gives the creator following;
    1- Recognition
    2- Financial security
    3- Motivation to work further
    The whole world is digitalized right now, all of the successful new businesses use digital techniques in one form or another as their backbones. With mathematical encryption techniques and individual identification numbers given to the computer devices, it’s all possible to make a system which enables the tracking of 3 D printing activities. This would not be attracting much investment also.
    Categorizing the instructions is a tricky part, it surely is not a manufactured goods because it is not physically there. It can not be accepted as a software also because it requires no installation or whatsoever. It can be categorized as a service though, because in a way it is giving us directions to attain the final product.

  30. gokulsidd says:

    The outcomes from 3D printing are going to just add onto the already existing patent issues caused by these new disruptive technologies. Just like one can print any image of the internet, a 3D printer can do so with about any supported file format. The same copyright laws that bar people from using pictures, logos, or trademarks can be formatted to products printed from 3D printing. I would not be worried about the general population printing invisible orthodontics, because first, the technology is far from being an efficient and feasible means to produce something at home, and second the materials are proprietary, so it’s hard to procure them and then have it made into something usable.

    Clearcorrect may have infringed specific aspects of the patents held by Align. Recent news shows the case has moved in favour of Align. The act of collecting digital data cannot be prevented and also wrong to do so, but clearcorrect went further to emulate the product to Align’s and thus challenging the validity of its patents.

  31. Archit Bimal Shah says:

    I believe protecting the digital instructions for physical products will be difficult, slight variations in process/code will make it different from the original and will not come under protection, thus those loopholes/concerns should be addressed when making the policy. Licensing both for commercial and private use would be a good way to protect the digital instructions as well as generating revenue.
    Also to maintain the innovation and development in this area, protections are necessary for recognition.

  32. Yeqi Wu says:

    Digital instructions are like design diagrams of traditional industries. Manufactures need diagrams to guide their production, like the shape, the size and materials of the product, etc. Same as this, digital data are design diagrams for 3D printing. That is not only about the code of the model, but also the design behind the code. Hence, I think the digital instructions should be protected by the patent law. People shouldn’t be allowed to make, use, sell and offer to sell with the digital instruction without permission, just like any industrial design.

  33. Aditya vats says:

    In the era of digital technology, a click of button can create havoc, as well as save lives. Hence there is always a strong dilemma regarding technology serving as boon or a bane.
    Indeed, the protection of intellectual property is without a doubt of paramount importance, and in the world of technology instructions are the originators of any new device. Hence, digital receipt of information should be halted considering the digital instructions ‘are’ the products themselves!
    However, innovations are always susceptible to imitation. To protect the intellectual property rights associated with it, the product should be patent protected and sold broadly in the market as a niche product for the consumers and non-disclosure agreements should be signed with all parties involved in the manufacturing of the product.
    Technological advancements are easily plagiarised, and thus biggest challenge of the manufacturer lies in improving their product to stand out periodically among the impersonators. We can cite example of Apple, that puts years in its research to come up with an idea that gets aped in no time. Saying so, any company do possess the ‘first mover advantage’ and gets their fair amount of profits minted initially.
    Instructions are the key to create any product in the software/manufacturing industry (such as 3 D printing industry). Just as safeguarding recipes of a popular edible product in the market, protecting these instructions become necessary for any company to standout in the competition. Thus, these instructions should be treated as the actual product/manufactured good for the company’s protection and self-interest.

  34. adityavats31 says:

    In the era of digital technology, a click of button can create havoc, as well as save lives. Hence there is always a strong dilemma regarding technology serving as boon or a bane.
    Indeed, the protection of intellectual property is without a doubt of paramount importance, and in the world of technology instructions are the originators of any new device. Hence, digital receipt of information should be halted considering the digital instructions ‘are’ the products themselves!
    However, innovations are always susceptible to imitation. To protect the intellectual property rights associated with it, the product should be patent protected and sold broadly in the market as a niche product for the consumers and non-disclosure agreements should be signed with all parties involved in the manufacturing of the product.
    Technological advancements are easily plagiarised, and thus biggest challenge of the manufacturer lies in improving their product to stand out periodically among the impersonators. We can cite example of Apple, that puts years in its research to come up with an idea that gets aped in no time. Saying so, any company do possess the ‘first mover advantage’ and gets their fair amount of profits minted initially.
    Instructions are the key to create any product in the software/manufacturing industry (such as 3 D printing industry). Just as safeguarding recipes of a popular edible product in the market, protecting these instructions become necessary for any company to standout in the competition. Thus, these instructions should be treated as the actual product/manufactured good for the company’s protection and self-interest.

  35. Krishnajit Bhattacharyya says:

    This is essentially a two-fold question.
    The first question is whether the physical copies are equivalent to the codes themselves. For this, I would like to draw an analogy from the music industry. The codes or instructions for the 3D prints are like the original mixed/mastered tracks that remain either as a property of the artist (if independent) or a record label (if the artist is under a contract with a record company). The multiple copies of the record (digital or physical) that are being sold, are obviously different from the original mastered tracks, like the physical 3D prints in this case are different from the codes. The copies change hand from the manufacturer, to the distributor, to the retailer and eventually the end customer, and at each stage of the supply chain is a legally owned entity of the respective party.
    The second question is whether the digital receipt of the information or code should be blocked. Well, protecting them legally is important. A code developed by an individual or a company is clearly an intellectual property by definition. Like any other IP (like every unique song) it must be protected. Illegal digital distribution of songs has wrecked havoc to the music industry and almost completely destroyed it so much so that providing songs for free has become the norm (remember the good old days of buying music from stores, well artists almost don’t get paid anymore). We clearly don’t want the same happening to the 3D print industry which is still in its infancy.
    However, there is a point of debate lingering here. Is every 3D printed item unique? (unlike song tracks which are unique). Many 3D printed objects, like the Clearcorrect’s transparent braces in question, are not unique. I guess, in order to resolve this, we must classify objects being printed. I support the excellent point made in Linda’s comment here. It may not make a lot of sense to protect generic items. But a unique design needs protection without a doubt.

  36. Abhishek Chokshi says:

    An interesting take on this would be the availability of 3D printers to the general public. As long as manufacturing units are the only places where 3D printers can print industrial-grade products, copyright laws can be enforced to protect the owner of the instruction from intellectual property theft. As of now, 3D printers are still not seen as a consumer good. When a time comes that 3D printers become a ubiquitous item in every household, companies can sell the instruction itself as a product to the consumer, who can directly print the same product on his own. To protect itself from piracy, the company can maybe link the sold instruction to a particular 3D printer, of the person who bought the same. This way, the company reduces both it’s manufacturing as well as transportation costs.

  37. Apurva Hardikbhai Desai says:

    The blog above reminds me of the impossible burger. BurgerKing holds the right to commercially sell the impossible burger and thus restricts individuals and other companies from making and selling them in the market. In the context of the blog, we can compare the burger with products and Burger’s recipe with the digital instructions of creating the product. Just as Burger King restricts companies and individuals from commercially selling the impossible burger, companies can protect their intellectual property of digital instructions by limiting its use for others by holding rights over the digital instructions(recipe). But just as Burger King can not stop individuals from making the impossible burger at home, companies can not restrict the use of 3d printers and hence individuals can produce products for their personal benefits. Hence for companies to ensure their grip on the market they should focus on providing products at lower costs and better quality then what individuals can produce on their own.

  38. Keshav S Nair says:

    I feel the digital instructions should be covered by IP rights since 3D printing is merely converting those instructions into a physical form. The most important part in this entire process is to create those instructions that tell the printer how to print and how much materials to be used. Of course, a slight modification in the instructions could suggest a new service altogether and may not come under the ambit of IP rights.

    • Deboleena Sen says:

      When considering patents for the protection of digital instructions, we should factor in the vulnerability of the patent system for software compared to that of the patent system for tangible discoveries. It is easier to challenge the ownership of the software patents as these are granted based on broad concepts that may have been used to build other products in the market. The lawsuits associated with patent infringements not only burn a hole in the company’s finances but also impedes innovation from reaching the customers. I came across an interesting read on the implications of legal battles for patent ownership among tech giants:
      https://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/08/technology/patent-wars-among-tech-giants-can-stifle-competition.html
      However, if the digital instructions are treated as manufactured goods, a whole new dimension of evaluating the patent system for digital instructions will open up. The functioning of the patent will depend on the standards for granting such patents, time required by the national law to approve the instructions as a physical good and patent laws amendments, if any.

  39. Yu-Ting Hung says:

    In my opinion, 3D printing should be treated as software, such as Microsoft Office, a license that protects intellectual property and companies. Like the manufacturing industry produce products, the software industry develops various technologies. These enterprises have the same goal, selling and earning revenue. We use patents to protect inventions as well as copyrights to protect authors’ efforts. Although it is difficult for everyone to follow this policy, if we can set a threshold, it will reduce the violation. That is to say, the license should be issued by the company. The person who wants to use needs to have access and should limit the number of instructions used, preventing one purchase it and let others use it.

  40. Pardha Sai Vangavolu says:

    IP laws enable creators to claim for ownership, if a certain object under one’s invention is 3D printed without specific authorisation. However, there exists a threat from ‘Hobbyists’ who intend to print objects at the comfort of their homes. In such cases, certain national laws exempt users from infringement of copy rights if the users were to restrict printing objects for private use. Though termed private, such usage could lead to unethical access if used for the wrong cause. Therefore, in my opinion, if digital instructions were to be sold to customers, steps need to be taken to encrypt digital files and also to mark them with a UID (Unique Identification Number) so as to monitor their use. Once steps have been implemented to curb unauthorised usage of 3D printed objects, digital instructions can be treated as SaaS (Software as a Service).

  41. Shekar Sankar Raman says:

    The 3D printing technology is fast growing and fact that the products are personalized, and instant shows that there is potential for an extremely fast paced growth in the coming years. I like to look at the development of products in two ways 1. Products developed for commercial needs (like bringing a breakthrough in metal printing technology, having industrial applications) and 2. Products developed for specific and highly sensitive needs (like developing specific products for healthcare and military). There is hence, a need to not only credit the developer for the code, but also need to consider the confidentiality or hazard of the product hence produced. Therefore I believe that there is a need for laws to be set in place to protect parties involved as protection of this data is crucial.
    3D printing is widely available and easily accessible and therefore requires immense effort to develop a way to protect data. Apart from implementing copyright laws, a platform where developers could securely commercialize or sell their products would provide additional security to piracy. On this platform developers would be able to provide their code on a pay-per-use licensing structure, also helping the developer to keep track of the data of the products sold. The code for the 3D printed products should be treated as a software as there is the common pay-per-use licensing trend that we are beginning to see in both the technologies.

  42. Ravleen Kaur says:

    3D printing is no more a virtual reality and is popular in various fields such as medical¸ military, automotive, aerospace etc. Increase in the availability of specifications or code and in the ability to copy digital instructions have possessed several IP issues. It is extremely important to have control over the digital instructions and track the reason of usage. One of the ways to protect the IP is through copyright laws and licencing the product. Other way is to encrypt the digital files and implement policies to regularly monitor non-traditional forums. The firms can also build a competitive advantage by providing open source code and generate revenues by providing trainings or other services .Such measures will help to use digital instructions as Software as service.

  43. Vrinda Vishal Chopra says:

    As per the official website of Copyright laws, the below stated can be protected by a copyright
    “Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.”
    So as per going by this, instructions for 3D printing do not directly fall into any of the above mentioned categories and so even if we get it patented by using a special category, the companies like ClearCorrect who go a step beyond the ethical means of business can get data extracted in unethical ways and then make minor modifications and manufacture very similar objects. So in this age of digitization and when everything is at a click of a button on internet, data infringement cannot be stopped completely but maybe stronger laws and some strong measures like by putting monetary charges to whoever wants to access the 3D printing data and giving access to only a handful of people associated with working on it may help curb the problem. Also, for preventing the customer to manufacture the objects itself contracts have to be put in place where breaching the same would result in legal action against the customer. This will be beneficial to all the parties involved as along with business, reputation of companies is also at stake.

  44. haocai1227 says:

    In my oponion, I think digital instructions are just like code of programs or algorithms, and they should all be considered as intellectual properties, therefore they should be protected from copy and business use by copyright laws.
    There is no doubt that the author of the instrcutions has spent his/her patience and time on creating them, we must motivate them to create more meaningful products, so the copyright of the instructions should belong to them, and they must have the right to sell or give warrants to potential customers.
    By the way, physical products can be printed with those instructions easily, because of that, digital instructions could also be considered as physical products. Once it has been regarded as physical products, they deserve to be protected by the copyright laws.
    Speaking of actual process, I am strongly agree with the idea that “digital instructions” can be added as amendments upon the part of digital intellectual properties laws, they match all the elements of them, so the additional parts can be included in the amendments.

  45. Aishwarya P B Naga says:

    Digital instructions for physical products must be protected by the copyright laws. Design of a product is crucial for any company and it must be protected in order to prevent the replication of it. In this era where we get all the information with only one click, it is not difficult to get the information about the digital instructions for a product. Hence, patenting them is very important. Many a times, the designers and manufacturers would not belong to the same company. The solution could be to treat the instructions as software where the design files are encrypted and not open to the users. The software licenses can be created, and the manufacturer can purchase the same from the designers. This is like the Microsoft OS where the license is available, but the code is hidden from the user. The same license can also be sold to the users as well. Any updates in the design instructions can be done through new releases. In this way, the product can be customized to some extent by the manufacturer and the original design can remain intact and the right will remain with the product designer.

  46. Keqian Hou says:

    I would treat the digital instructions as softwares. People need to have hareware first in order to use software and then utilize the software to generate outputs. In this case the hardware is 3D printer. the output is printed object, and the software is the digital instruction. Thus, the digital instruction should not be treated equally with the printed object. In my opinion, I would say the better way is to use license or trademark to protect it. It is reasonable if customers pay for the instruction and use their own printers to print objects. On the other hand, if people just download instructions without geting the license, they are violating related law, although it might be very difficult to enfore the penalty.

  47. Mengying Song says:

    Digital instructions should be protected by the US copyright laws. If referring to the provisions on “copy” in the Berne convention, it includes “any way” and “any form” copy, the expression obviously puts forward higher requirements for copyright protection. If the instructions are sold to customers without any protections of laws and the customer can print or even amend and then resold to others, in that way the company is likely to face the dual risk of bearing the benefits and responsibilities. To avoid any unnecessary risks, it is best for the company to treat the digital instructions as goods which can be protected by the copyright laws to protect enterprise interests.

  48. Debashis says:

    Here is an interesting case of ClearCorrect:
    https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=f86f0232-4253-49ea-b99f-52a7125de2f8
    The case in ClearCorrect arose from a dispute between Align Technology, Inc. (“Align”) and ClearCorrect Operating, LLC (“ClearCorrect US”), along with its Pakistani affiliate, ClearCorrect Pakistan (Private), Ltd. (“ClearCorrect Pakistan”) (collectively, “ClearCorrect”).
    Here in this case, digital instructions refer to the physical parameters of the product that is being printed i.e., the dimensions, shape form and all. They are just inputs which need to be processed by a software for finally printing the product. Now ClearCorrect just outsourced the designing phase (developing the digital instructions) of the printing process, basically what companies like Infosys and all do. they are providing services. So, I feel that developing the digital instructions should be considered as a service. since it is a service it cannot be considered as a material which can be covered by the copyright laws.

  49. Debashis Tarafder says:

    Here is an interesting case of ClearCorrect:
    https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=f86f0232-4253-49ea-b99f-52a7125de2f8
    The case in ClearCorrect arose from a dispute between Align Technology, Inc. (“Align”) and ClearCorrect Operating, LLC (“ClearCorrect US”), along with its Pakistani affiliate, ClearCorrect Pakistan (Private), Ltd. (“ClearCorrect Pakistan”) (collectively, “ClearCorrect”).
    Here in this case, digital instructions refer to the physical parameters of the product that is being printed i.e., the dimensions, shape form and all. They are just inputs which need to be processed by a software for finally printing the product. Now ClearCorrect just outsourced the designing phase (developing the digital instructions) of the printing process, basically what companies like Infosys and all do. they are providing services. So I feel that developing the digital instructions should be considered as a service. Since it is a service it cannot be considered as a material, which can be covered by the copyright laws.

  50. Aloma DSouza says:

    The primary focus is to protect the Intellectual Property (I.P) of the owner. Digital instructions need to be protected by US Copyright laws as this will ensure the I.P owner is rewarded for their patent. If digital instructions are not protected, it is as good as neglecting the existence of the patent and any person with a 3D printer could manufacture and sell the item.
    In such a situation we could have licensing/IP sharing agreements, which would protect the rights of the I.P owner and also permit manufacturers with 3D printers to sell and distribute the product.

  51. HANOOSHA NAGIREDDY says:

    Patenting digital information will sure protect the ownership which restricts and guides the usage of the product or services. But in today’s world of technology and the internet, there are a lot many pirated ways if one wants to get hold of data regarding anything.
    So maybe instead of privatizing everything, it is important to also consider the level of competency that is required for using these digital instructions. If a product or service does not have a lot of technicalities and the users can use it at ease,( like the case of 3D printers), I think it should be patented or at least categorized as suggested by “Wei-Lin (Linda) Shao”. Whereas, the other scenarios, where one needs to have continued expertise even after having access to data can be open as this gives opportunities for one to practice them at free will.

  52. Pauleth Charris says:

    To the question “What if the instructions are sold to customers who could then print it themselves, how should the associated intellectual property be protected?”, First and foremost there should be a patent over instructions. Then the company/person with the IP should only provide instructions as long as there is some sort of agreement with the customer. The agreement should be clear enough with what the user can and can not do with both instructions and printing. This is similar to how OPEN SOURCE LICENSED SOFTWARE works.
    One thing that the provider could do to enhance the IP protection is to supply the instruction in a coded format (eg. crypted), such that the customer can not do reverse engineering on the format but still be able to execute it on the software that prints the object.

  53. Li-Ren (Ivan) Syu says:

    In my opinion, it’s not necessary to manage every digital instruction in a way companies used to manage confidential patents such as coke recipe. However, certain regulations and corresponding education needs to be provided considering 2 arguments:
    1. The responsibility of information provider
    The information online could be shared around the world, however the regulation for the same information could be changes in different countries. For instance, the recipe for 3D printed guns can be spread legally within the United States but it’s definitely illegal in most Asia countries. In this case, both governments and provider should work together to keep the information from being attained by those who are not allowed. It relies on more intensive downloader identification and related safety design or simply legitimate a new law.
    2. The capability of making judgment
    It’s always risky to fully believe in someone or something without confirmation and this works the same with the information online. Even worse, nowadays we can easily find countless “health tips” on numerous forums, blogs or your friends’ Facebook posts. Different from instructions that company provided, people won’t guarantee the correctness of all the information they provided as they don’t charge for commercial purpose, and this it necessary for people to hold a critical thinking about unknown information.

  54. Longyu Guan says:

    I believe digital instructions for physical products should be protected by the US copyright laws. The 3D products are like software, and digital instructions are similar to the code. In order to create a successful software, the creators have to use their intellects and spend much time on coding process. Similarly, the digital instructions cannot be equally treated as 3D products, but the efforts of creating digital instructions should be protected by law. If there is no protection from copyright laws, people can get the digital instructions from others, and make some modifications and then claim that the products are created by themselves. This would demotivate the creators of digital instructions and threaten the industry. So, the digital instructions should be protected by copyright laws.

  55. Junaid Imtiaz says:

    Intellectual instructions as with any intellectual property should be respected. Just because it is not physical does not mean it has reduced importance or value. Several organizations invest millions of dollars in research and development to learn and refine these intellectual instructions. The proper way to produce these products is company secrets and the result of significant time, effort and resources. In the approaching age of the of 3d printing where 3d printers are readily available to the general public if the intellectual instructions are not protected then businesses would have little incentive to carry the burden of researching and developing these products when they can easily be obtained at no cost and produce via local 3d printing. The intellectual instructions need to be protected legally being a form of intellectual property and this can come in the form of licenses and copyrights. The license can be sourced out if the company allows it or if notcan limit the access internally.

  56. Junaid Imtiaz says:

    Intellectual instructions as with any intellectual property should be respected. Just because it is not physical does not mean it has reduced importance or value. Several organizations invest millions of dollars in research and development to learn and refine these intellectual instructions. The proper ways to produce these products are company secrets and the result of significant time, effort and resources. In the approaching age of the of 3d printing where 3d printers are readily available to the general public if the intellectual instructions are not protected then businesses would have little incentive to carry the burden of researching and developing these products when they can easily be obtained at no cost and produce via local 3d printing. The intellectual instructions need to be protected legally being a form of intellectual property and this can come in the form of licenses and copyrights.
    The license can be sourced out if the company allows it or if willing can limit the access internally.

  57. Brandon Black says:

    I feel that they do represent the patented material but should not be considered the patent itself. Currently when patents are filed, specific drawings and instructions for assembly are not required to be public and companies hold them as trade secrets. They support the manufacture but are not the finished good. If the digital instructions are the finished good, then I feel it should still not be protected like the product. Because even though the company might be selling the design, if someone is infringing on your patent they are not just holding your design. They are holding your design in order to 3D print something. Without actually having the physical product why would someone having the digital instructions matter?

  58. Ke Wan says:

    As the final product of 3D print would be physical, thus its copyright should be treat as same as any other physical property. However, as online instructions are based on the internet, I think copyright of them should be treated as other online based actions, for example download streaming media.

  59. Hee-kyoung Han says:

    I believe that the digital instructions for 3D printing should be regarded as the basic drawings in construction industry. Even though pieces of paper, the basic drawings decide lots of things related to procurement, construction, and commissioning phases, which eventually increase or decrease overall efficiency and cost savings of the project. This is the reason why most basic drawings are exclusively protected by its own patent or copyright. In the same manner, I believe that the digital instruction for 3D printing generates same value in manufacturing physical products, and therefore the digital instructions should be strictly protected by laws.

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