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Blockchain tech set to revolutionise copyright laws for 3D printing

22 April 2022

New research will radically change the way that 3D printed objects can be distributed and licenced.

(Image: Shutterstock)
(Image: Shutterstock)

The use of 3D printing is rapidly growing in a range of industries – including aeronautics, car manufacturing and dentistry – but innovation has become constrained because of the lack of clarity over legal rules.

A team of experts led by Dr James Griffin from the University of Exeter Law School have patented watermarking technology for use with 3D printing. They are now working to link this watermarking technology to blockchain, to allow the licensing of 3D printed objects.

The technology will help companies to license their products for 3D printing properly for the first time, allowing them to develop new markets.

Intellectual property is currently protected by Copyright Law, Design Law, Patent Law, Trade Mark Law, Passing Off Law, Misrepresentation, Moral Rights, and Technical Protection Measures. Contractual and jurisdictional issues between, for example, China and the UK, as well as broader international laws and regulations, also affect the operation of the application of licences and contracts.

Many people using 3D printing recruit a company to print using a file that they download. Licensing and watermarking this download will lead to intellectual property being able to be authenticated, traded and stored.

Incorporating blockchain into this process will allow copyright information to be included and give creators an extra layer of legal protection as well as the watermark.

Dr Griffin said: “Our work will have a significant impact on the use of 3D printing technology. By using blockchain, you can enable new technical standards for licensing and use around the world by creators and companies.

“Blockchain is an easy way for copyright data to be stored, and a means by which licensing of 3D printed content could be standardised.” 

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