Nov 19, 2015 | By Kira

The Federal Circuit has recently made a ruling that could have a significant impact on 3D printing and digital data being transmitted from outside of the US. In the case ClearCorrect Operating LLC v. Intl Trade Comm’n, No. 2014-1527, held on November 10th, 2015, the Federal Circuit ruled that the ITC has no jurisdiction over digital data, including 3D printing files, transmitted into the United States from abroad because they cannot be considered ‘material things.’ In the already murky waters surrounding IP law and 3D printing, the decision could have both negative and positive impacts on intellectual property holders—depending on which side of the border they’re on.

As explained by Reed Smith attorney Matthew J. Shiels’, the ClearCorrect case that brought this decision to light related specifically to 3D models being transmitted to the US from Pakistan. ClearCorrect Operating LLC is a Texas-based company that provides dental products and services, including 3D printed orthodontic aligners. While these aligners are manufactured using 3D printers in the United States, the digital models were created and transmitted from ClearCorrect Pakistan, Ltd.

Petitioner Align Technology, Inc alleged that the methods used to design and manufacture ClearCorrect’s aligners infringed their existing patents, and as a result an Administrative Law Judge issued cease-and-desist orders against both ClearCorrect and ClearCorrect Pakistan forbidding the importation of infringing digital models to the US. Initially, the ITC approved this cease-and-desist—a notable case, given that was the first time that the ITC had ever issued such an order against a foreign entity without any standing physical inventory in the United States.

Now, the Federal Circuit has vacated the original cease-and-desist, having found that U.S.C. section 1337 (a) gives the ITC jurisdiction only over unfair acts involving the importation of ‘articles'—which the Federal Circuit interprets explicitly as ‘material things.’ Thus, the ITC cannot police or control 3D models given that they exist in the digital, rather than the physical realm.

This is potentially a landmark decision, as it means that foreign companies that design 3D printable products can manufacture those products on 3D printers in the US without being subject to the jurisdiction of an ITC investigation. Keep in mind that the Commission exists to determine the impact of imports on US industries and directs actions against unfair trade practices, such as subsidies, dumping, patent, trademark and copyright infringement. Without being able to control digital data, which eventually do become physical objects in the case of 3D printing, the ITC won’t be able to even consider these products as ‘imports’ that may or may not have an impact on US soil.

Align Technology and similarly situated plaintiffs who believe that their patents have been unfairly infringed, however, can still seek injunctive relief and monetary damages in Federal Court or foreign venues for their individual cases.

For now, the Federal Circuit ruling means that ClearCorrect can continue to receive digital data from Pakistan and 3D print the finished products in the US. How other companies, intellectual property owners, or the 3D printing industry will respond in the long run remains to be seen.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive