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Malaysia: What’s next for 3D printing?

3D printing technology has been in the market for several decades and was originally invented in the 1980s. The recent development however which affects IP and other legal issues is that 3D printers are now accessible to consumers and retail for as low as $1,000, while industrial 3D printers can print highly intricate and complex objects which are fully assembled, complete with moving parts or hinges.

What would be interesting to examine is the impact of 3D printing on the protection of tangible IP. Would the impact be analogous to what downloads and file sharing did to digitally stored IP such as music? Computer-aided design (CAD) files of products are easily downloaded and shared. As the technology becomes cheaper and the variety in printing materials expands, independently printing useful objects would become more common for smaller players and consumers. This along with the ability to share CAD files may pose a threat to IP owners.

Some companies have opted to adapt rather than fight the rise of 3D printing. Hasbro for example opened up its IP to allow fans to have almost total control over how they design products from the My Little Pony line. By teaming up with Shapeways, a 3D printing service provider, Hasbro is able to navigate through product liability issues and retain control over the quality of the products being 3D printed, while allowing customers to have a fully customised experience.

Earlier this year, Lowe's Innovation Labs opened a hardware store which allows customers to 3D print replacement parts and décor products with full customisation. Customers are also able to 3D scan and reproduce their own items that are no longer in production.

Fighting rather than embracing the effects of 3D printing would be a difficult task. As a preliminary issue, the basic question on who owns the 3D printed work needs to be answered under copyright laws of the relevant local jurisdiction – would it be the person who conceptualises the design, the one who creates the CAD file or the one who operates the printer? There would also be the practical issue of enforcement which would be analogous to those faced by the media and entertainment industry in the 1990s with the rise of the internet and the ability to virally replicate digitised content.

IP owners and creators need to start thinking about how their products fit in the 3D printing landscape, particularly for consumer-facing businesses. Whether they wish to share their IP or tighten controls, additional steps need to be taken to ensure that they are prepared.


Chew Kherk Ying

Chen Hong Sze

Wong & PartnersLevel 21, The Gardens South Tower, Mid Valley City, Lingkaran Syed Putra59200 Kuala LumpurMalaysiaTel: +603 2298 7888Fax: +603 2282

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