The EU Council recently adopted a position on the proposed revision of the Directive on the legal protection of designs. Why is this important? Because the new law will govern the protection of industrial designs produced by 3D printers, which are increasingly being used in virtually every sector of the economy.
Change driven by progress
3D printers can now be used to print almost anything: food, clothing, simple or highly complex spare parts, houses, cars and even human organs. 3D printers are even being used to build space rockets.
However, uncertainty over interpretation makes it difficult to determine who should own the rights to the industrial designs produced by these machines.
An industrial design is the external appearance of a product, and one of the main factors influencing consumers’ decisions to buy a product is how attractive it looks. There is no doubt that a good, original and eye-catching design is an important competitive advantage and adds significant value to a product.
The purpose of the proposed Directive and Regulation will therefore be to update the existing legislation. This is all the more necessary as the current legislation is nearly 25 years old (with the Directive and Regulation dating from 1998 and 2002, respectively)! The revision also aims to simplify the procedure for registering designs at EU level and to introduce greater procedural harmonisation between the European and national systems.
The main idea behind the draft Directive is the rapid popularisation and growth of 3D printing, driven by both the advancement of the technology itself and the possibility of using the platform for new projects. The 3D printing market is expected to grow by more than 30% per year over the next 10 years, reaching a value of ca. USD 8 billion by 2033.
Broad regulatory needs
One of the consequences of this dynamic growth is the challenges facing design right holders today, such as preventing the illegal and easy copying of their protected intellectual property.
The aim of the new legislation, which would meet the interests of the parties concerned, would be to make it clear that the creation, downloading, copying and distribution of any media or computer software capturing the design in question for the purpose of making a product infringing the protected property is tantamount to requiring the authorisation of the owner.
It can be assumed that the legislative work that has begun is the beginning of a whole series of changes relating to the determination of who owns the rights to a product printed with a 3D printer.
We should not forget about software developers, entities printing a certain product or producers of raw materials for printing. No doubt they would also like to share in the rights to the printed products and the potential profits.
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