The Challenges of 3D Printing to the Repair-Reconstruction Doctrine in Patent Law
44 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2013 Last revised: 21 May 2014
Date Written: January 1, 2013
Three-dimensional (3D) printing is technology that allows consumers to manufacture an endless variety of items in the comfort of their homes. Although innovators have recently used 3D printers to make remarkable creations like human tissue and functional guns, it is becoming ordinary for average tinkerers to 3D print replacement parts for broken home objects. Common sense tells us that replacing a few parts to an object is “repair,” a perfectly legal activity. But if a consumer makes several parts of a patented combination with 3D printing, the activity might be subject to legal restriction. As more consumers learn how to 3D print their own replacement parts, they will become less dependent on traditional manufacturers. Patent holders may wish to strictly enforce their rights and commence lawsuits against consumers. If a patent holder can prove that a consumer has “reconstructed” an object instead of repairing it, the consumer will be liable for patent infringement. The upcoming shift in the replacement part industry from the growing popularity of 3D printing necessitates redefined standards in patent law to better distinguish between lawful object “repair” and unlawful “reconstruction.” This article proposes that the Supreme Court adopt redefined standards to make the analysis more clear, consistent, and predictable for 3D printing users and patent holders.
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