Additive manufacturing — commonly referred to as 3D printing — is on the rise. Already in commercial use in various industries, it is only a matter of time before the development of 3D ink pens and desktop 3D printers makes the technology a household concept.
In the commercial context, 3D printing, which turns a 3D digital model created on a computer or with a scanner into a physical object, allows manufacturers to make complex designs, rapid prototypes and final products, while limiting production waste and potentially lowering production costs. 3D printing is no longer viewed as a novelty, as manufacturers in the automotive, aviation, medical, entertainment and numerous other industries are integrating 3D printing into their production processes.
As with any new technology, 3D printing brings with it a host of new questions surrounding intellectual property, product liability, insurance, tax and other significant legal issues. Hunton & Williams’ 3D printing team is well equipped to help companies approach and resolve these matters. Led by the firm’s intellectual property group head, Maya Eckstein, and made up of members of the firm’s intellectual property, litigation, products liability, retail, tax, corporate and insurance practice groups, our 3D printing team has the knowledge and experience to assist companies as they navigate the many complexities they will face as 3D printing continues to revolutionize manufacturing.
3D printing allows companies and users seeking replacement parts and finished goods to produce these items on their own with the use of digital blueprints (CAD files). As 3D printing continues to grow, these blueprints will become more valuable and more susceptible to cyber theft and other inappropriate use. Without effective methods for keeping tabs on these files, it is inevitable that users and manufacturers of 3D printers and 3D printed objects will encounter patent, trademark, copyright and other IP issues. Moreover, 3D printing allows sophisticated counterfeiters a less expensive and more streamlined method of producing illegal copies of various types of goods.
The IP lawyers on Hunton’s 3D printing team help clients create, protect, defend and avoid infringing patent, trademark and copyright rights associated with 3D printing. We partner closely with our clients to understand their unique business and legal goals and develop effective IP strategies that are mindful of both. Our lawyers are actively involved in all aspects of the IP cycle, from preparation, procurement, counseling, opinions and licensing of patents, copyrights and trademarks to litigation.
As with products created using traditional manufacturing processes, defective 3D printed products or injuries resulting from them are likely to result in product liability litigation. Those involved with any of part of the lifecycle of 3D printed products — whether product design, 3D printers, chemicals, metals and other materials used to print products, or post-production processes — are likely targets for litigation.
The product liability lawyers on the 3D printing team appreciate that excessive verdicts or public relations miscues can trigger market analyses with dire consequences and threaten a company’s stellar business reputation. From the time a potential business risk is identified until the matter’s conclusion, depth of experience in risk assessment and veteran trial lawyers are essential to the development of a comprehensive and winning defense strategy. Our product liability lawyers provide clients with the advice and counsel needed to develop a business strategy to avoid litigation where appropriate, and the talent and experience required to engage and resolve litigation where necessary.
Considering the rise of 3D printing, companies involved in 3D printing are poised for activities involving capital raising and finance, acquisitions, divestitures, joint ventures and venture capital investments. They also regularly face issues surrounding corporate governance, taxes, employment and benefits, commercial contracting and creditor’s right. Members of the 3D printing team have extensive experience counseling 3D printing clients in these areas. Members of the 3D printing team have extensive experience counseling 3D printing clients in these areas. We are objective driven and deliver practical outcomes narrowly tailored to achieve our clients’ goals. Our deep bench of business lawyers stands ready to assist clients with the unique challenges that face emerging technology companies in the global marketplace.
The insurance-related risks associated with 3D printing are broad and include intellectual property risks, cyber risks, professional liability and indemnity risks, and risks involving product liability, supply chain disruption and product recall exposures, among others. Other insurance-related issues likely to arise in the context of 3D printing include multijurisdictional and cross-border issues, including determining which jurisdiction’s law will apply when additive manufactured products are designed in one location, modified in another location and printed in multiple other locations. Likewise, the rapid evolution of 3D printed products and their relative ease of distribution through technology transfer will likely raise new issues concerning notice and updates to underwriters as the scope of policyholder operations changes.
Hunton & Williams’ 3D printing team includes members of the firm’s insurance coverage counseling and litigation practice, whose experience with legacy and emerging insurance coverages and issues positions them to anticipate and address the insurance needs of firm clients as 3D printing becomes an increasingly viable industrial process. While 3D printing may be an evolving technology, the issues that it raises with respect to insurance are not unfamiliar. Members of the firm’s insurance practice have been counseling and representing the interests of policyholders with respect to these and other insurance-related issues for decades, and they stand ready to bring their years of insurance experience to bear on all facets of our clients’ 3D printing-related needs.