3D printing trademark basics

Trademark 101

Trademark law is intended to protect consumers from confusion related to a product’s origin. It protects not only names, logos and emblems, but also more things like characters, color schemes, and shop layouts. Trademark law does not raise as many legal questions as copyright or patent law with 3D printing, as the law is a little more clear-cut here.

Because trademark law is intended to protect consumers more than the trademark holders, merely copying a trademark without potential exposure to a consumer is not a trademark violation. As soon as consumers are exposed, you have a trademark violation. For example, a person could scan an existing Hello Kitty figurine, make modifications so Hello Kitty is positioned differently and then print the new figurine. So long as the new figurine or the CAD file is never exposed to consumers or shared on the Internet, there wouldn’t be a trademark problem with printing it. That said, because Hello Kitty is also a copyrighted character, all of the same rules about reusing a copyrighted work would also apply so although the printed Hello Kitty wouldn’t violate trademark law, it would likely violate copyright law.

Trademark law also protects “trade dress” which is separate from logos and symbols. Trade dress covers an identifying color scheme associated with the product or company. It is a good idea to distinguish your color scheme from another’s trademarked color scheme to protect consumers from any confusion, and to avoid potential infringement.

If you have any other questions regarding 3D printing and the law please don’t hesitate to contact New Media Rights via our contact form.

Ways to legally use anothers trademarked work

Trademark law is meant to protect consumer confusion as to the source of a good or service.  That said, there are some ways to reuse a trademark legally.

License To Use A Trademark

One way to use another’s trademark is to obtain permission from the trademark holder to do so. Permission from the trademark holder is ‘license’ to use their trademark. For example, Nintendo might give a person a copy of its 3D file of Mario with permission to print and sell Mario figurines, on the condition that Nintendo gets a percentage of the profits.

Nominative Fair Use Of A Trademark

Nominative use occurs when a trademark is used for its intended purpose: to properly identify the product and its origin. For example, you could include text in your 3D-printable file that says, “my phone case design is compatible with Apple iPhone 5 only.” However, include the Apple logo on your design would not be normative use and would violate trademark law.

Parody Fair Use Of A Trademark

Use of a trademark as parody requires you use the trademark in an obvious joke or commentary. There are no hard-set rules for what does or does not qualify as a parody. For example, a 3D-printable model design of Michelle Obama helping a child flatten the Pillsbury Doughboy with a rolling pin to comment on the First Lady’s battle against childhood obesity would likely be considered a parody. However, a design of the Pillsbury Doughboy just standing there eating a cinnamon roll and holding an American flag would not be a parody.

Descriptive Fair Use Of A Trademark

Descriptive fair use of a trademark occurs when you use a trademark in its literal meaning. For example, including “I came up with this model cat design after being bitten by a wild puma” in the comments of your 3D-printable file will not infringe on Puma the sports merchandise retailer’s trademark.

If you have any other questions regarding 3D printing and the law please don’t hesitate to contact New Media Rights via our contact form.

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