Watch the World 'Burn': Copyright, Micropatent and the Emergence of 3D Printing

51 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2013

See all articles by Matthew Susson

Matthew Susson

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: April 2013


Where the Industrial Revolution introduced the notion of mass production of goods — and thereby upended previous economic models — 3D printing now “makes it as cheap to create single items as it is to produce thousands,” which “may have as profound an impact on the world as the coming of the factory did.” In short, a new fabrication revolution is coming.

3D printing is, put simply, a technology that allows one to transform a digital file into a physical product — in other words, we can now print actual objects. Technology that allows users to manufacture complex objects at home, quite patently, promotes innovation. The power to essentially summon tangible objects from any computer-printer setup raises some profound questions. Will such a tectonic readjustment in the realities of manufacturing eliminate the need for urban industrial centers? Will it return manufacturing capacity to the United States? And, most importantly for the present purposes, what will happen when the public gets its hands on technology that allows mass “pirating” of physical objects? In formulating a response to the latter question, policymakers will undoubtedly draw from the lessons gleaned from a recent history chock-full of technologies out to unsettle the status quo.

For well over a century now the content industries, in a remarkably consistent manner, have repeatedly expressed a fear of new and revolutionary technologies, and the inevitable cultural decline that results. These industries have often turned to copyright and other intellectual property protections as a way to mitigate the development of such new, disruptive technologies. Like the paradigmatic technologies before it, however, 3D printing will surely incite wild streaks of innovation and creativity, alongside the protectionist and defensive efforts content creators and others will exert to protect their rights and business models. Tightening existing intellectual property protections vis-à-vis 3D printing may discourage innovation, while, on the other hand, embracing an open-source, laissez-faire ideology might promote piracy. It’s a delicate balancing act to be sure. One thing is for certain, though: 3D printing will likely disrupt every field it touches.

In light of the numerous historical attempts to restrict new technologies, proponents of 3D printing must now, as the technology is poised to enter mainstream awareness, ponder the many intellectual property law issues likely to spur content industries to protect the status quo, and work to postpone such measures until policymakers, innovators and the market itself better understand the technology and its many likely effects.

Keywords: 3D Printing, Intellectual Property, Copyright, Micropatent, Technology, Policy

Suggested Citation

Susson, Matthew, Watch the World 'Burn': Copyright, Micropatent and the Emergence of 3D Printing (April 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Matthew Susson (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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