Image Courtesy: Göran Jonsson via FlickrIntellectual property (IP) affects small businesses in every industry. But especially in developing, emerging industries, outdated laws can turn into significant problems for individual businesses. The 3D printing industry offers an excellent case study in how industry and lawmakers work together to update IP law. 

Recently, Mediabistro held a conference in our nation's capital that addressed intellectual property rights in the industry. At the 3D Printing Politics Conference in Washington, D.C., lawmakers and industry leaders discussed the impact that IP issues can have on the future of 3D printing.

A touchy subject

As the 3D printing industry expands, more people around the globe will gain the ability to duplicate proprietary materials. In our global economy, this trend will go beyond locally, or even nationally, drafted laws to include trade policies, keeping IP rights in mind when trading with partners around the globe. 

In other words, 3D printing has increased the need for a discussion among industry and lawmakers on whether our current IP and trade laws are sufficient to deal with this paradigm shift. Cooperation in this area is particularly important considering the ability of 3D printing to potentially revolutionize entire industries such as the medical industry.

Expert Speakers

To discuss this touchy subject, expert speakers converged on Washington, D.C. for the conference. Vikrum Aiyer, Deputy Chief of Staff in the Office of the Under Secretary for IP at the US Department of Commerce, was part of a panel discussing the economic impact of the Obama Presidency. Thaddeus Burns, Senior Counsel for Intellectual Property & Trade at General Electric, discussed the challenges of intellectual property rights introduced by the peer-to-peer, bottom-up manufacturing environment of 3D printing.

Other discussions were just as important. Democratic House Rep. Tim Ryan, Chair of the Congressional Makers Caucus, focused on the topic of Government Procurement, Licensing & Tech Transfer. The founder of Bits to Atoms, Duann Scott, was a valuable part of a discussion on the growing global 3D printing IP market. Many more speakers explored and expanded on how 3D printing is simultaneously impacting and impacted by intellectual property rights. 

Future Developments

The conference emphasized the need for increasing and adjusting current IP laws in order to avoid harm to the industry. If 3D printing exists in an unregulated state, experts argue, it could go the way of Napster—a program that revolutionized the music industry at the price of its own demise due to intellectual property rights.

3D printing is just one of the up-and-coming industries with the potential to change the world in a positive way. But it can only do so when it doesn't violate laws, even if those laws are outdated. The 3D Printing Politics Conference was an important step to ensure a close cooperation between the industry and US politics, securing a prosperous future for all parties involved.

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