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3D and IP at VT

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From Wikipedia

3D printers are finding their way into an ever-growing number of libraries, schools, museums and universities. Together, these institutions facilitate creative learning through 3D modeling, scanning and printing. Virginia Tech is one of the latest universities within this far-reaching “creative learning community” to build a makerspace replete with cutting-edge 3D technology.

The facility, located in the Resource Center at the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center in Fairfax, VA, is the brainchild of Kenneth Wong, Associate Dean of the Graduate School – and Director – of the Northern Virginia Center. Under the leadership of Associate Dean Wong and the day-to-day management of an expert team of library professionals led by Coordinator Debbie Cash, the facility is open to the public, giving all people the chance to bring their imaginations to life.

On Tuesday, as part of the Obama Administration’s “Week of Making,” the Northern Virginia Center held a 3D Printing Day. Dean Wong kindly invited me to kick off the day with a talk on 3D printing and intellectual property (IP). I spent the hour talking about the copyright, trademark and patent implications of 3D printing. Over the course of the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy’s work on 3D printing, we have exhorted library professionals to be undaunted by the specter of IP infringement. Our message has been a positive one: If we’re proactive in figuring out where our rights begin and end as users and providers of 3D printers, we can set the direction of the public policy that coalesces around 3D printing technology in the coming years.

Copyright, Patent, Trademark
From Flickr

Makerspaces like the one at Virginia Tech underscore just how imperative it is that we get out ahead of rights holders in setting the bounds of our 3D printing IP rights. Using the printers and scanners at Virginia Tech, Dean Wong built models of the human hand in an effort to design better prosthetics, and other users have created figurines, sculptures, and more. The sort of creativity this facility enables inspires hope for the future of connected learning. To ensure that such creativity can continue unfettered, we must be fearless in our approach to intellectual property.

IP law is not simply a series of stipulations that hamstring our ability to be creative; in the context of 3D printing, it represents something of a blank slate. Copyright, patent and trademark have yet to be interpreted in the context of 3D printing. As a result, we, as 3D printing leaders, can influence the efforts of lawmakers, regulators and the courts as they work to create frameworks for the use of this technology.

The ALA Office for Information Technology Policy’s 3D Printing Task Force works to do just that. The task force is dedicated to advancing policies that will allow Dean Wong and his Virginia Tech colleagues – and other “making enthusiasts” – to democratize creation and empower people of all ages to solve personal and community problems through 3D printing.

I would like to thank Kenneth Wong and Debbie Cash for the opportunity to speak at Virginia Tech, and to congratulate the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center for getting a state of the art makerspace up and running. ALA wishes Dean Wong and his team all the best in their efforts to unlock opportunities for all through 3D printing, scanning and design.

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Charlie Wapner

Charlie Wapner is an information policy analyst for the Washington Office.

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