Having a printer that can print any object you can think of sounds like a dream, right? It is fast becoming a reality, as the cost and accessibility of 3D printers mean their availability for personal use is rapidly increasing and could become a nightmare for protecting your intellectual property rights.

What Can 3D Printers Actually Do?

They allow individuals and manufacturers to produce copies of products. The printers can make solid objects from a digital file. To copy the product and enable it to print, you first must have access to a file or template that instructs you on the substance and method you need to follow to complete the object. These instructions can be downloaded from websites where uploaders sell or pirate printing instructions. There are also professional 3D printing services available. Some of the objects available to print include women’s fashion, art and practical home objects. The FDA in the US has even approved the use of 3D printed medical devices, like prosthetics, and has recently given the go-ahead for a drug developed to control seizures to be 3D printed.

What Does This Mean For Me?

Being able to print a variety of designs and objects can create a significant problem for companies seeking to protect their intellectual property rights. The first step is to consider whether your design is registered. If it is registered, and an individual is creating a template that prints an object that is substantially similar to your design, then it is likely to be infringing your rights. Your design must be new and distinctive, and you must have the exclusive right to deal with it commercially. However, the Designs Act 2003 (Cth) does not cover infringement of designs that are private and for non-commercial purposes.


If design protection is not going to apply, then copyright might be another option. You will have copyright protection under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) if the individual who has copied your work has not made your object into more than 50 articles. This would mean it has been industrially applied and does not have copyright protection. However, there are exceptions to this rule, the applicable one being that it is maintained for works that are of artistic craftsmanship. It’s hard to qualify a work as something that is of this calibre, as it needs to have an objective artistic quality. Some objects that might fit into this category include jewellery, glassware and one-of-a-kind furniture.

Trade marks and Patents

Another option is considering using a patent or a registered trade mark. Being granted a patent for an object printed by a 3D printer may be challenging, as according to the Patents Act 1990 (Cth), the object needs to be novel, involve an innovative step and be useful. Objects of this nature are generally unlikely to be able to be printed by a 3D printer, although this protection would apply if this becomes the case.

Finally, utilising a trade mark on your object can distinguish it from other goods and provide you with some protection. Trade marks can be used to protect things like the shape of your object and even the colour combination. If your trade mark is taken and used in the design and production of the printed object, then you will be protected, but only if the product is created for commercial purposes and not for personal use. The individual could also simply omit some types of trade marks in the printing process, such as logos or names, and this will not attract legal protection.


If your product becomes the object of affection for 3D printers, it is best to seek legal advice, as this is a complex and developing area of law. Our intellectual property specialists at LegalVision can navigate you through these difficulties and provide the best advice on all possible solutions, get in touch by calling us on 1300 544 755 today!

Ursula Hogben
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