Charles Hull invented the “stereolithography” process which forms the backbone of what we now know as the 3D Printing technology. He described it as a process that involved “[slicing] a computer-aided design (‘CAD’) file into two-dimensional cross-sections and used an ultraviolet laser to ‘print’ the cross-sections layer by layer in a photosensitive resin.”[U.S. Patent 4,575,330 (Aug 8, 1984) (“Apparatus for Production of Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography), http:// http://www.google.com/patents/US4575330). When he got a patent for it in 1984, the technology was made available to only a few entities with deep pockets who can afford to explore the possibilities that such technology can offer. 32 years later, with the expiration of his patent (as well as the patents for some of the inventions related to this process), the Do-It-Yourself or the Maker Movement, together with 3D printer manufacturers like the Makerbot, and open source communities like Thingiverse, have taken and “democratized” the technology to new levels, in terms of access and applications.
Having observed the dizzying developments in this new/old field, I have desired to lecture on the various legal issues concerning the applications of 3D printing since 2014. In January 23, 2015, I decided to discuss 3D printing guns for the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Makati Chapter, as part of my Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) lecture on Electronic Evidence Trends. In the August 7-8, 2015 3D Printing Expo held at the SMX Convention Center, Atty. Del Rosario (IPAP President) was invited to discuss the intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues concerning 3D Printing. In my MCLE lecture for the Bureau of Customs last March 9, 2016, I delved on the Tariff Issues concerning 3D printed products. Finally, in my March 12, 2016 MCLE Lecture for the IBP Makati, I addressed the cybercrime component of 3D printing in the context of fashion and infringing 3D CAD files. As far as I know these were the only instances when 3D printing legal issues were tackled in a more or less “formal” setting in the Philippines for lawyers and other professionals.
It was therefore, such a momentous occasion for me, when I finally got to lecture for 3 hours on the legal issues concerning the 3D printing technology for the ACCRALAW firm, with the University of the Philippines Institute of Administration of Justice as the MCLE provider, upon the approval of the Supreme Court. In my submission of the outline for my lecture, I made it very clear that my lecture will not focus merely on IPR issues, but will give an overview of the many fascinating issues this technology poses for the legal profession.
I gave the ACCRALAW lawyers fair warning at the start of my lecture that what I will share with them consists mostly of my opinions and insights culled from several years of my research and fascination with 3D printing, and its applications, which all started with two of my avocations: fashion and jewelry designing. The Philippines currently has no law or jurisprudence concerning 3D printing and I am not aware of any government agency regulating 3D printing, although there is an active 3D printing community in the Philippines and there are online outlets where one can buy 3D printers and go to for 3D printer services.
In dealing with this technology, which is probably the most disruptive technology since the advent of the PC, I apprised the lawyers present of the conceptual challenges arising from the appreciation of a 3D CAD file. A 3D CAD file of an object can be generated by designing it with an application like Autodesk, or by scanning it, or by availing of ready made 3D objects and combining them to form new 3D objects, like what exists in the 3D Builder Library of Microsoft Windows 10, which I showed to the audience. The current controversies in 3D printed objects almost all center on the nature of these 3D CAD files.
3D CAD files do not automatically generate 3D printed objects. As I explained, two things must happen. First, they have to be saved or converted to a format that a 3D printer will accept. For now, the “ancient” .stl format is still popular, but there are others that are jockeying for interoperability supremacy like .amf format and the .3mf format. Second, these appropriately formatted CAD files must be “fed” to 3D printers which will operate in accordance with the files’ specifications or “instructions”. In “owning” these 3D CAD files to go after infringers, or to prove products’, and even medical liability, lawyers for all sides must consider the technical nature of these files in arguing their cases. I strove to show the audience what the possible arguments could be.
The ACCRALAW lawyers appeared to enjoy themselves, as I took them through the gamut of health and safety concerns, environmental implications, labor displacement, medical legal issues, consumer issues on 3D printed drugs and food, cultural heritage, fashion law, freedom of speech and the rights of artists which are all implicated in this technology, peppered with my personal anecdotes and examples culled from different fields.
One controversial matter I discussed in my lecture which I would like to emphasize in this article is the probability that when Charles Hull invented the stereolithography process, he may not have foreseen that this could be an answer to the quest of some entities for immortality. The relatively new field of synthetic biology and the 3D printing technology are seen by certain people as the ticket to creating new organisms and bringing back lost species. Synthetic biologists have linked four natural nucleotides (A, C, G, T) “into a new, synthetic strand of genetic material” and created two new synthetic nucleotides (X, Y). As Dr. Anthony Atala, one of the respected pioneers in this area, have said “we can grow organs instead of transplanting them. Beyond bioprinting body parts, some speculate future possibilities of printing mammalian or human clones and bringing back extinct animals.”
As of now, researchers and scientists have successfully 3D manufactured human skin, ears, noses, jaw bones, parts of the human skull and even certain organs. There are ethical and religious debates concerning the possibility of 3D printing kidneys, hearts, and so on, particularly if the cells were culled from other humans, embryos, or animals, and perfecting a human being’s organs to prolong his/her life or give him/her extra “powers”. Jasper Tran coined the word “cloneprinting” but I prefer to use the term “human printing” to refer to the possibility of 3D printing back humans. It is interesting to speculate on how that will wreak havoc on our succession laws and other laws that pertain to persons, family and property relations. Dead dictators, infamous criminals as well as saints and beloved leaders can be resurrected if their DNA were preserved. I showed the audience a picture I took of a preserved suit of Dr. Jose Rizal displayed at the Dapitan Shrine in Dipolog, and how that suit or any personal relic that the Rizalistas have, which contains his authenticated DNA, can be used to bring him back. In a 3D printing world, no one has to die, they only need to be 3D printed.
Heaps of appreciation to the wonderful 70 strong ACCRALAW lawyers who appeared quite receptive to my insights and my particular brand of humor. I do believe that MCLE lectures like any other learning session should be fun and enjoyable. As always, especial thanks to the forward thinking UP IAJ, its gracious Director, Prof. Patricia Salvador Daway, the very supportive UP IAJ staff, and the accommodating ACCRALAW staff.