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What's the legal status of Chinese 3D printer part clones such as Hiwin linear rail clones or E3D hotends?

While it's clear that Chinese clones are certainly sub-par in quality, no question, what I wonder is whether they violate any laws (they don't use brand names or claim to be the genuine product).

In particular, I’m interested whether it is in any way illegal to order such parts in the U.S.

Given that there's hardly any 3D printer that doesn't contain at least one Chinese part, I really think this is on topic.

I also don't seek legal advice but any information other 3D printer users on here have.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hey I put this on hold, this is a legal question, which honestly I think you know the answer to if you should buy printers that use knock off IP. We unfortunately cannot give legal advice, and must stick strictly to direct questions about the application and use of the printers, not international laws. That said, buy the real hotends, not a knock off, the knockoff is going to be junk, and who knows might explode due to sub par quality. $\endgroup$ – StarWind0 Jun 7 '19 at 17:34
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    $\begingroup$ No I really don't know. It's clear that chinese clones are certainly sub-par in quality, no question. What I wonder though is whether they violate any laws (they don't use brandnames or claim to be the genuine product): Given that there's hardly any 3d printer that doesn't contain at least one chinese part, I really think this is on topic. I also don't seek legal advice but any information other 3d printer users on here have. $\endgroup$ – matthias_buehlmann Jun 7 '19 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ The case is very different for some parts: some parts are non patented and non patentable and can't be trademarked, thus customs can't do anything. Other parts are patented and their (non functional!) shape or color trademarked, allowing customs to crack down on them. More information and cook down to one part - and don't frame it as asking for legal advice. $\endgroup$ – Trish Jun 8 '19 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ This is hugely dependent on what part you're talking about though. Thankfully, many components are open-sourced, meaning the Chinese clones are just legitimate, as long as they don't maliciously attempt to fool people into thinking they're buying the real deal ("Genuine Arduino" branded clones"), which does not usually seem to be the case. $\endgroup$ – towe Jun 28 '19 at 13:55
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This question is really a legal question, and could apply to any cloned parts/devices rather than being 3D printer specific, and a generic counterfeit consumer goods based question should be asked on SE.Law. However, as you rightly state, a lot of 3D printers from China may contain (whether knowingly sourced or not by the manufacturer1) counterfeit parts, be that ICs, hotend designs (i.e. E3D clones), controllers (i.e. Arduino Mega boards or stand-alone non-RAMPS Arduino shield boards),or what have you. As such this is an issue that may be faced by any unwittingly innocent consumer.

Prefacing any statement with I am not a lawyer (IANAL), these sections from Wikipedia entry on Counterfeit consumer goods might help answer your question:

In short, if they have a mind to, Customs could seize it at the border; if your house was raided (for whatever reason) law enforcement could seize your printer (although this seems unlikely, unless they were explicitly raiding your house for knock-offs); and (more worryingly) there is a proposal to fine those people who purchase knock-offs.

Of course this is not the only legal issue that may be encountered when buying Chinese devices/parts from less-than-reputable suppliers o eBay or AliExpress, for example, what if:

  • it breaks and what legal recourse do you have as a consumer;
  • it produces a poor quality or dangerous print;
  • it explodes, what legal recourse do you have;
  • and so on, etc.

These questions lead into rather murky grey and legally complex areas, and really would need to be dealt with by a legal professional (solicitor/lawyer).


Other Stack Exchange posts worth reading

These deal more with quality not legality but see


1 A bone fide low end oscilloscope manufacturer got stung by a batch of fake regulator ICs just last year, see Re: JYE Tech DSO150 oscilloscope troubles

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    $\begingroup$ Fake parts is another big problem since stolen parts from original shipments are committed, then to be sold has to cover de original marks and in the process the robber offers the product as the same part or like substitute. I saw that on manufacturing companies. $\endgroup$ – Fernando Baltazar Jun 29 '19 at 17:36

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