Reconstructionism: IP and 3D Printing

50 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2016 Last revised: 28 Mar 2022

Date Written: February 13, 2017


Reconstructionism is a prescription, a framework and a tool. Like a knife, reconstructionism draws across fields of law, slices apart bodies of law, and carves out workable components for a difficult legal dilemma. It then reconstructs the necessary components into a legislative straitjacket for that dilemma. The reason to deconstruct law, like “tak[ing] apart a pocket watch, or a car engine, aside from the simple delight of disassembly, is to find out how it works. To understand it,” so lawmakers can reconstruct it “better than before, or build a new one that goes beyond what the old one could do.”

To illustrate, this Article applies reconstructionism to the IP dilemma of 3D Printing. In short, the one-size-fits-all model of copyright, patent, trade secret and trademark does not work with 3D printing. In learning from the creation of copyright for books after the invention of the printing press, this Article normatively (re)constructs a novel IP right for 3D printing. Specifically, this Article deconstructs copyright and patent laws into Lego-like building blocks to reconstruct (3D) PrintRight for 3D printing. PrintRight’s basic elements include (1) the property right to exclude (as shared in all IP rights), (2) immediate attachment at the moment of creation in copyright and (3) usefulness in patent. Put simply, PrintRight is the right to not have a person’s useful creation mass-produced by 3D printing without permission.

Outside of law, reconstructionism can also apply to other disciplines. For example, imagine combining parts of two or more subjects within any discipline to reconstruct a new subject within that same discipline. Also imagine combining parts of two or more disciplines to reconstruct an entirely new discipline. With reconstructionism, the possibilities are limitless.

Keywords: reconstructionism, intellectual property, 3D printing, sharing economy, Uber, regulation, reconstructing, deconstructing, copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret, additive manufacturing, bioprinting, technological, societal changes, economics, philosophy, jurisprudence, Holmes, Cardozo, Brandeis

JEL Classification: O3, O33, O34, K00, K10, K11, K34, N3

Suggested Citation

Tran, Jasper, Reconstructionism: IP and 3D Printing (February 13, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Jasper Tran (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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