Few of us have one but the use of 3D printers is on the rise in businesses and homes in Europe. However, there are some question marks for consumers over this new technology.
Jennifer in London asks: “While 3D printing is growing fast in popularity, this new technology also raises concerns about product safety, consumer protection or trademark infringement. How should those concerns be addressed by EU policy makers?”
Per Strömbäck, editor of Netopia, the Forum for the Digital Society responds: “3D printing has been around since the 80’s but what happened recently is that patents are expiring, so 3D printers are now becoming a consumer product.
“So, there are great expectations that 3D printers can be a personal item almost like photo printers and colour printers that exist in most homes. Now, this will disrupt the market for manufacturing for example, you won’t need big plants, you can distribute products electronically over the internet and print them.
“So challenges like consumer safety, what will be the quality of the printed product and who will be responsible if something goes wrong? Trademarks and design patent infringements… So many of the challenges with piracy that the content industry has suffered from could also be the challenges of the manufacturing industry. Gun control may be the most spectacular example.
“And maybe, from a government perspective, most importantly the collection of trade tariffs and sales taxes will also be challenged if personal 3D printing becomes the norm in the next 5 to 10 years or so.
“Now to the question of what governments should do and what the EU institutions in particular should do. I think if the law and norms are included already at the concept phase, then it’s very simple for the technology to comply and I think that the best way to do that is to make sure that government research grants have criteria (saying) that the technology (has to) support democratic, societal and government priorities.
“So, we have an historical opportunity to make this technology something that helps society, rather than try to fix the problems retroactively as an afterthought.”
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