Copyright lawyer Mark Avsec likens the 3-D printing phenomenon sweeping the manufacturing sector to the way the internet reshaped the music industry.
It's a natural comparison for Avsec, who may be more widely known as the voice behind Donnie Iris and the Cruisers — an Ohio-based band with a hit in the 1980s — and has a vested interest in copyright laws. In the same ways the web and file-sharing applications that gained prominence in the 1990s forever changed the recorded music business, 3-D printing is leading monumental change in manufacturing.
“There's going to be distortion. There's going to be change,” Avsec said. “But there's also a lot of opportunity. And this is really just the beginning.”
Avsec is a partner with Cleveland-based law firm Benesch, which is among a few law firms in northeast Ohio promoting a practice in 3-D printing, a veritable wild blue yonder in today's legal world. Its practice based in Cleveland, is led by Avsec, vice chair of the firm's 3iP (innovations, information technology and intellectual property) group.
Benesch's interest in 3-D printing matches the reasons the Ohio region is positioned to see a boom in additive manufacturing: an inherently large and sophisticated manufacturing base; a slew of large and innovative companies; a world-class health care industry; and a university-centric training system prepping a specialized workforce.
As additive manufacturing grows, could Ohio also become the intellectual epicenter of this evolving area of law?
Benesch seems to think so. That's why it's investing so much time, talent and energy in developing that business here.
“Right now, IP [law] is just the same old laws. It's just now being applied to this new technology,” Avsec said. “Over time, we may find that some laws need to change, or new laws need to be enacted. It's an area we should understand to our clients, even if our clients aren't even thinking about it yet.”
As the additive manufacturing sector matures, business services need to follow suit, and that's where the legal sector comes into play.
If a new part is printed for a lawnmower, but the piece fails and a person is injured, where does the liability fall? What are the roadblocks to licensing and issues with commercializing and implementing new printed products and technologies?
What's more, how can designs and patents remain protected? Are we nearing a point where a Napster-type file-sharing service could result in these cloud-stored schematics could be downloaded and ripped off by anyone? What happens then?
The 2016 Wohlers Report, an analysis of 3-D printing and additive manufacturing, values the industry at $20 billion by 2020. Other reports vary, but offer similar strong projections, with values growing exponentially from there.
Ohio is expected to remain a major player. Some groups, like the Technology House in Streetsboro, Ohio, have been 3-D printing for decades.
Thogus, an injection molder based in Avon Lake, Ohio, recently spun out its 3-D printing-focused rp+m division. While the concept of 3-D printing has been around since the 1980s, new technologies and other advancements have accelerated growth in the past few years, making the technology more mainstream.
That new division for Thogus will lead the company into future growth. The company is looking at ways clients can incorporate 3-D printing in their own businesses — and it's changing everything.
Schematics, for example, are no longer on paper, but electronic files stored in the cloud that can be input into a printer to create the new part.
That marks more of an evolution than a revolution, said Thogus CEO Matt Hlavin.
As those additive manufacturers grow and more break into 3-D printing, the need for legal support will undoubtedly grow with it as companies face additional legal issues — including those that have not even come to light, yet. And that will remain a critical element in supportive business services to support their own growth and development.
“This will create new manufacturing process and new outcomes,” Hlavin said. “If you're not doing this, you're going to be left behind.”