I would like to create a mechanical piece of hardware using commercially purchased goods, for instance, drivetrain components like constant-velocity joints and driveshafts which can be purchased. I imagine some of this is patented.

How can I obtain the rights to create 3d replicas of such objects in my modeling software of preference such that I can distribute my design with that product as part of it? I would be modeling these items either myself using mechanical drawings I'm provided or converting from various repositories on the internet.

Ideally, I would distribute the completed model under GPL.

  • Are these items patented design wise? Just because they are commercial does not mean the design is patented
    – Putvi
    Jun 13, 2019 at 17:34
  • You don't make it clear if you want to just distribute some computer model of the items, or if you want to use a 3-D printer to create physical objects which you would distribute. Just creating a computer model is unlikely to infringe a patent. Jun 13, 2019 at 17:45
  • 1
    @Gerard Edited, thanks.
    – user26186
    Jun 13, 2019 at 18:28

2 Answers 2


A Utility Patent protects the functional embodiment of the invention, not the "design or concept." Some parts of a patent might be covered by copyright in some rare instances (such as a photo).

In other words, a utility patent prevents you from legally creating a functional copy or version of a patent-protected device. (Utility patents do also extend to things such as processes, methods, code, plants.)

But it does NOT prevent you from using that device in a design for some other device. And you can produce your device that incorporates that patented part so long as the part that is under patent protection is one that you purchased from an authorized supplier and not manufactured by you (unless you of course obtained a license to do so).

I.e. you need a license to PRODUCE physical versions of the device protected by the utility patent.

  • (That said, the company that holds the patent is under no obligation to supply the device to you. That is, let's say company Squatting Inc. holds the patent on left-handled brass wigimajiggers but they are not actually producing them, or they are producing them but only using them in their own products and you can not buy one — if you require one for your design, you are out of luck until their patent expires and you can make your own left-handled brass wigimajigger.)

DESIGN patents are very different, they cover a design that is "ornamental" in nature, and does not sound relevant to your issue.

Copyright covers an expressive work which may be a design - but copyright wouldn't cover the physical U-joint for instance. Copyright could cover the actual 2D plans for something, but typically not the item the plans create.

On the "plans" issue there are some subtleties, for instance in 1990, Congress passed the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act which provides some limited protections for building plans.

  • Thank you for the comprehensive answer. My understanding is that Patents typically cover something like ~20 years here in the United States, per the generalized overview I read here. Basically as I am understanding it, I can use a pre-existing design such that it satisfies the requirements for a larger mechanism that I am designing, so long as I am purchasing the pre-existing design from the person that made it.
    – user26186
    Jun 15, 2019 at 2:39
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    "so long as I am purchasing the pre-existing design from the person that made it". No. patents do not protect designs. Patents prevent the manufacture of physical objects unless you get a license from the patent holder. If you want to produce physical objects either buy the physical components from an authorized manufacturer or obtain a license from the patent holder to make them yourself. Jun 16, 2019 at 12:05

Sorry if I misunderstood your question, but most mechanical parts for a car do not have design patents. Renderings of engines and other parts can be found in manuals, online, and elsewhere.

If you do need to use some special design that you can not reproduce an image of, you would contact whoever owns the patent.

  • Ignoring some things that obviously don't apply, there are three kinds of intellectual property protections that might apply: copyright for a computer model, design patent for the appearance of a physical object, and utility patent for a physical object that has some functional innovation compared to the prior art. It's hard to imagine anyone applying for a design patent on some out-of-sight gear train components, so the applicable protection, if any, would probably be a utility patent. Jun 14, 2019 at 21:30

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