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Penn State offers first course to address legal questions in additive manufacturing

The course will be offered as an elective in its Additive Manufacturing and Design program

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Intellectual property and data security are some of the top concerns in the additive manufacturing industry today, as the technology is creating unprecedented opportunities in distributed manufacturing. In order to explore questions related to IP and AM, Penn State is introducing a new course as part of its Additive Manufacturing and Design (AMD) graduate program.

The new program, called AMD 597 Legal Issues in Additive Manufacturing, is the first of its kind and will address such questions as how do you protect your AM designs and how to ensure that existing IP isn’t being violated.

“Additive manufacturing is disrupting product design and how we manufacture parts,” said Timothy W. Simpson, Paul Morrow Professor of Engineering Design and Manufacturing and director of the AMD program. “It’s also disrupting how we protect our intellectual property. Most engineers are not prepared to think about the impact this will have on how their company will deliver new products and services with AM.”

The new AMD course at Penn State will complement the program’s existing courses on AM to give students the necessary knowledge and skills for becoming experts in additive manufacturing. The new course is specifically geared to helping future AM leaders navigate the legal issues in the sector.

Penn State legal AM course

“Additive manufacturing is creating new ethical dilemmas that companies have to wrestle with,” Simpson added. “Therefore, we have to prepare our AMD students for those challenges, especially when they take on leadership roles within companies seeking to exploit AM.”

The new course will be taught for the first time this summer and will be led by Daniel R. Cahoy, a professor of business law. As an interdisciplinary course, it will also rely on collaborations with Penn State Law and the Smeal College of Business.

After completing the course, AMD graduates are expected to know the following:

  • The fundamentals of creating valid legal contracts and be able to engage in secrecy agreements and licensing
  • How patents and trade secrets support innovation in AM and how to interpret patent claims and documents
  • How to incorporate product liability law into the design of products and processes
  • How to create enforceable trademarks and understand how to form a valuable brand
  • How copyrights and design patents protect creative content in AM
  • How to identify obligations to apply cybersecurity and protect privacy rights

Do AM engineers need to be lawyers?

Typically, manufacturing experts could leave legal matters up to a team of lawyers. In AM, however, Simpson suggests that engineers will need to have more in depth knowledge of IP, contracts and NDAs, as the nature of the technology necessitates that they be considered in all aspects of a business model. In other words, additive manufacturing comes with a new legal landscape compared to traditional manufacturing.

“As a working engineer, I feel that this is a valuable knowledge base to have,” commented Brenna McCornac, a student enrolled in the course and an additive manufacturing engineer at Cumberland Additive. “I don’t believe that many engineers have the opportunity to learn a lot about the law, especially within their specific field. Those of us participating in this class will be uniquely equipped to work effectively in a corporate setting or start their own business, having a good basis of legal knowledge pertaining to additive manufacturing.”

The course will be offered as an elective in Penn State’s AMD program and was developed in cooperation with Christopher Higgins, a partner and the co-leader of the 3D Printing Group at law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. In his career, Higgins has directly dealt with the complexities of AM in intellectual property cases—especially as the industry is in constant flux.

“Legal issues, especially intellectual property, are at the forefront of many additive manufacturing companies’ concerns,” Higgins explained. “As an engineer, having an understanding of legal issues that may arise in additive manufacturing can make you an invaluable asset to a company. It is a skill set that most engineers do not have when exiting school, which makes this course a unique opportunity at Penn State.”

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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