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Stanford Professor's Take On 3D Print Liability Law

Publication Date: 
November 08, 2013
Kyle Maxey

Associate Professor Nora Freeman Engstrom comments on the possible legal ramifications of successful 3-D printing for

Nora Freeman Engstrom, Associate Professor of Law at Stanford has published a paper in which she examines some aspects of the legal implications of 3D printing. Many of us have been concerned about what may happen, but she states the problem eloquently:

Following any significant technological breakthrough, legal scholars, practitioners, and policymakers must consider how the innovation meshes with—or poses challenges to—our existing laws and system of governance. Will it fit? What must change? Where are the pitfalls and opportunities? 3-D printing is no exception. The laws it implicates are numerous, and the challenges it poses are profound.

Engstrom examines one particular problem in the space, namely that of product liability. The gist of the existing law is that those who engage in selling defective products are liable for any carnage that may result. Does this apply to 3D printed models that might be sold by owners of personal 3D printers? She says:

... even assuming that the product is unambiguously defective, a plaintiff will have trouble prevailing in a PL (product liability) action against any one of these three possible defendants (printer operator, printer manufacturer, 3D model designer).