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3D printing vs online brand protection

3D printing is well on its way to become an everyday technology. An increasing number of industries use it regularly, including, unfortunately, counterfeiters. Discover how online brand protection safeguards your IP-rights in the world of 3D printing.

Back in the early 2000s, my uncle taught me how to use the internet. I was fascinated by the idea that we can just download things we want. We were looking at the picture of a car and I asked how we could get that car. He laughed and told me, “Well, you can’t download a Lamborghini!”

A couple of decades have passed and now it turns out we can. But will it really be a Lamborghini?

What is 3D printing

As opposed to printing paint on paper to form text or images, 3D printing creates objects by settling many successive layers of material on top of each other. Basically, it’s similar to the method of building a wall by gluing layers of bricks together.

3D printing is also called “additive manufacturing” since it adds layers of material together. It’s the exact opposite of traditional subtractive manufacturing where pieces of material are hollowed out to create an object. Because of this reversed working method, 3D printing is a much more efficient way of manufacturing since it requires a lot less material and creates between 70-90% less waste.

How does it work

A 3D printed Yoda figurine with visible slices/layers
A 3D printed Yoda figurine with visible slices/layers

To get started with 3D printing, you need a virtual 3D model of the object you want to print.

As the use cases of additive manufacturing keep widening every day, an increasing number of 3D models are available online.

Many service providers (and even some online marketplaces) offer ready or custom-made 3D models of all kinds of objects for varying prices.

Or, alternatively, you can get a 3D scanner and scan any object to get its 3D model.

The next step in the process is called slicing. This is done by a software, and as the name suggests, it breaks your 3D model down into thin, printable slices.

Once you have sliced your model, you need a 3D printer. Or, if you lack the cash for it, you can hire a service provider who does the actual printing for you.

Depending on the object you’re creating, the printer can use various materials including plastic, metal, carbon fiber, resins, and much more.

What is 3D printing used for

As mentioned earlier, 3D printing is a highly efficient manufacturing process and as such has an ever-widening scope of use cases. From toys to prosthetic limbs, from car parts to houses, 3D printing is being adopted by innovators in many industries.

And as the cost of printers and all necessary software tools has become more affordable, 3D printers have started to find their way to people’s homes. So if it turns out that you invited too many dinner guests, you can simply print another set of tableware to accommodate everyone. Or even a new dining room table. There really are no limits.

Or are there?

Trademark, patent and copyright protection in the world of 3D printing

It’s true that technology tends to race ahead. But every time, the law follows closely behind. Even though it’s possible (and increasingly easy) to steal IP-protected content like pictures or brand imagery online, it’s still illegal.

The same goes for 3D printing. Technically, you could scan any object, even a branded product protected by IP-rights into your 3D scanner and create a replica with a printer. But you shouldn’t do that: it’s illegal.

Unfortunately, that usually doesn’t stop fraudsters from creating counterfeits and selling them off- or online. And, with 3D printing, they have gained a fast and cost-efficient way to replicate branded products by the dozen.

But there are even more issues with 3D printing. It’s not just the products themselves that can be sold, but their virtual 3D models. There are already many marketplaces and internet fora that specialize in the trade of 3D models, allowing people with printers to create their own fake products at home. Although some of these marketplaces have an IP policy in place, they may lack the resources or abilities to enforce it.

And let’s not forget about the threats to safety. Fake parts in various machines, including cars, whether they’ve been 3D printed or created in any other way, pose a serious danger to the safety of consumers. Grave accidents, even death can be the result of a counterfeit part making its way into cars or any other type of machine.

A 3D printer, a 3D model, and 3D printed objects
A 3D printer, a 3D model, and 3D printed objects

This issue isn’t going away. In fact, as 3D printing becomes even more widespread and available to larger segments of the general public, IP-infringements committed this way may multiply as well.

Online brand protection has the answers

A fake is a fake, however it was created. Luckily, the distribution channels don’t differ from each other significantly either, which means that a comprehensive online brand protection program will catch all counterfeits of your brand, whether they are virtual 3D models, 3D printed products, or are created in any other way.

globaleyez’s various services, including marketplace, social media, and image monitoring, as well as test purchase are geared towards detecting unauthorized content (e.g. product listings and images) both on- and offline.

We provide you with court-admissible documentation and extensive reports that form the basis of our actionable advice on next steps. Should it come to that, we enforce your rights and ensure the removal of IP-infringing content.

Don’t let 3D printed (or any other) fake products flood the markets and harm your brand as well as your customers. Contact us now and find out how we can put a stop to that.

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