As with all paradigm-shifting technologies, the development, adoption, and economic impact of 3D printing will depend not only on technological innovation and market forces but also on the legal considerations that guide those forces. Some, such as law scholar Deven Desai, view 3D printing as a Napster for material science, with the capacity to undermine scarcity — and therefore business models based on material distribution — in the same way that peer-to-peer file sharing has helped to disrupt traditional media industries. Others, such as Adam Rodnitzky, the director of Marketing at 3D scanning manufacturer Occipital, cast doubt on this assessment, comparing 3D printed objects to “a Grateful Dead concert tape that’s been duped a hundred times”: lesser-quality facsimiles that augment rather than diminish the value of scarce originals.
These concerns are only a part of the larger debate surrounding 3D printing, which is forcing legislators and regulators to rethink a broad range of legal issues, from patents to copyrights to liability. Below, we will briefly review a few of these legal issues with the greatest potential to shape the future of this market.