Is This a Problem for 3D Systems Corporation?
The U.K. has just changed its copyright and patent infringement laws on furniture design. Critics are freaking out, saying the move represents a direct attack against 3D printing. The move, should it spread, could represent a threat to the fortunes of 3D Systems Corporation (NYSE:DDD) and even Stratasys, Ltd. (NASDAQ:SSYS). So far, neither 3D Systems stock nor Stratasys stock have suffered any related losses.
DDD stock was trading slightly higher on August 11, a day or so after the patent law changes were announced. SYSS stock was also trading higher. But that might be because, so far, the law concerns the U.K.—not the European Union (E.U.), from which the U.K. will be separating. That said, there appears to be an “attack” on 3D printing in the U.K., or at least a major unfavorable review thereof. (Source: “UK copyright extension on designed objects is “direct assault” on 3D printing,” arstechnica, August 8, 2016.)
Copyright and patent are separate things. Currently, a design patent is different from a utility patent. The U.K. proposing the design patent (DP) on furniture means that furniture design is now protected by copyright. The fact that this copyright lasts 70 years instead of the previous 25 after the author’s death makes it worse. What does it all mean? If you’re an artist and you create an original piece of furniture, you can get a patent for it. In other words, after doing some math, copyright on furniture now covers a period of a century.
The patent prohibits the marketing of copyrighted furniture. If you like a particular piece of furniture, protected by copyright, you can copy it, but not sell it, so you can absolutely use 3D printing to reproduce furniture for personal use. Here’s why the U.S.-based 3D Systems and Stratasys have less to worry about from the 3D printing law than their counterparts in the U.K. or Europe.
This is not because U.S. laws are more lenient; it’s because they are already the toughest. The U.K. changed its legislation to homogenize its laws with E.U. directives. This suggests that 3D Systems and Stratasys are already operating under the strictest legislation, so they don’t have to change one iota of their business. That’s why both DDD stock and SSYS stock didn’t give up a cent over the new radical (where the U.K. is concerned) law.
Moreover, some are praising the new U.K. copyright laws, because they penalize plagiarizers (many of them in China) that reproduce objects illegally. 3D printing has represented a threat to copyrights. Some have likened it to the “Napster” (the free music-sharing site) of physical objects. (Source: “How 3D printing threatens our patent system,” The Conversation, January 6, 2016.)
In a sense, more regulation helps 3D printing develop along more legally acceptable boundaries, averting risk in the future. So, if anything, tougher and inevitable copyright laws on designs are an important step towards allowing DDD or SYSS to grow and develop.