During the pandemic caused by COVID-19, the additive manufacturing production method popularly known as “3D printing”, which consists of a production method whereby successive layers are placed on a given material and which has rapidly increased in use over the last few years, including in the domestic sphere, recaptured media attention because of its application in the creation of new instruments and equipment to help fight the pandemic.
Amongst the most manufactured items are protective masks and visors, breathing parts, and even pulmonary ventilators, resulting in numerous debates and concerns on the part of intellectual property rights holders, health, and intellectual creations regulators.
Indeed, a constant source of concern for IP rights owners is not only that 3D printing will facilitate a massive violation of their rights because anyone could quickly reproduce objects protected by industrial design, copyright, and even patents.
Public health is also an important issue. It is possible to question whether the materials used by 3-D printers could not only be harmful to those who use them, but even damage or disable the equipment, or even worsen the situation of the most exposed to COVID-19.
It is interesting to note that, in the same way that some copyright holders have chosen to make their works available through licenses, the 3D printers users community also started to share files for free-to-use printing.
This phenomenon ended up revealing an interesting facet within the current pandemic, allowing the fight against COVID-19 to take place without potential violations of rights or problems related to public health. Companies such as Czech Prusa Research and Sweden’s 3DVerkstan developed protective masks for medical use and released their files as “open source”, meaning that their files are licensed so that anyone can print them freely.
Thanks to this, several universities, factories, and even home users around the world have contributed to efforts to combat the new coronavirus by mass printing of such masks. According to the information provided by Prusa, the company has already printed and donated more than 65,000 masks, and its design is fully open to the users’ improvements.
Given this scenario, it is important to emphasize that intellectual property plays a fundamental role in encouraging innovation, ensuring the return on investments in research and development, and promoting competitiveness in the market. It allows those who are interested in making their knowledge available in a variety of ways – including free of charge, when possible – while at least ensuring the identification of the owner of the rights.
It is precisely in these times of crisis that manifestations of creativity, innovation, and human solidarity come to light at the highest level, promoting new solutions to current problems, without any violation of rights or financial loss to third parties’ ideas.