Regulating Three-Dimensional Printing: The Converging Worlds of Bits and Atoms

70 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2013 Last revised: 12 Aug 2014

See all articles by Lucas Osborn

Lucas Osborn

Campbell University Law School

Date Written: July 20, 2013


Three-dimensional printing is invading society, bringing with it the ability to “print” objects (atoms) from computer files (bits). Posting a computer CAD file of an object (an illegal gun or an infringing shoe) to the internet essentially makes the physical object available to the world. The technology portends dramatic shifts in manufacturing, trade, medicine, and more, and will require a legal regime that integrates the legal concepts governing the digital and physical worlds.

This Article represents the first broad descriptive and normative study of this technology and its multivalent effects on law. The Article separates truly novel legal issues raised by 3D printing from issues for which the current regulatory regime is well designed. After identifying novel legal issues, the Article builds on a rich literature set of regulatory and compliance literature to construct an integrated regulatory regime to govern 3D printing. It then applies this regime to the world of 3D printing, describes the political economy of 3D printing technology, and discusses specific regulatory challenges brought about by the digitization of physical goods. As a guiding theme, this Article argues that the nascent but promising state of 3D printing technology necessitates a flexible and iterative regulatory response.

Keywords: three-dimensional printing, 3D printing, additive manufacturing, regulation, private ordering, technology, intellectual property, code, tort, products liability, guns, gun control

Suggested Citation

Osborn, Lucas, Regulating Three-Dimensional Printing: The Converging Worlds of Bits and Atoms (July 20, 2013). 51 San Diego L. Rev. 553 (2014), Available at SSRN:

Lucas Osborn (Contact Author)

Campbell University Law School ( email )

United States
919-865-4673 (Phone)

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