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3D printing and its impact on Intellectual Property

  • 25 May 2015
  • Articles

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a process by which tangible solids object can be created from a file of digital 3D design by a materials printer.

Everything starts from a virtual design created in a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file using either a 3D modeling software for digital creation of the products or a 3D scanner for copying an existing product that is digitized in the software. The 3D printer, based on the CAD file, divides the digitized design into hundreds or thousands of layers so that the product is manufactured layer by layer. Originally, 3D printing was possible only in a single material (usually plastic) and in a single color, but with technological development of this technology, now it’s possible to create more complex objects from a mixture of traditional materials (plastics, metals and/or ceramic, even food) in several colors and shapes and without any kind of assembly required, allowing the creation of objects that could not be made with conventional manufacturing.

3D printing shortens the development cycle of the product, since prototypes may be produced quickly; also increases the efficiency in the supply chain and reduces facility/storage costs (since merchandise does not need to be stored); in other words, it improves the manufacturing efficiency and breaks all the moulds for production, distribution, storage, shipment and retail, plus this technology environmentally friendly because it does not use much energy, does not leave much waste and, since there is no need to send the product, avoids the use of fuels.

3D printing is being actually used in all industries: automotive, aerospace, military, medical, construction, engineering, biotechnology, fashion, jewelry, food, etc., and is as useful as disruptive because, while it is true that this technology can bring many benefits to society, so is that Intellectual Property (IP) owners will be severely affected by the improper use thereof; i.e., both Copyrights holders and Trademarks, Patents and/or Industrial Designs owners’ rights may be violated due to all the facilities that 3D printing offers, since CAD designs can be downloaded easily from the Internet and the user can modify and print the final product at home, since the cost of 3D printers has decreased exponentially these days and are accessible to everyone.

Based on the aforementioned, the consumer will no longer be consumer, but the creator and manufacturer, and thus may get used to obtain instantly a generic unbranded product; therefore, it is necessary to create new jobs, business models and IP protection standards and that IP embrace and take advantage of all the benefits of 3D printing in order to attract and interact with consumers, by creating new strategies such as association or licensing approaches with the online makerspaces, opting for crowdsourcing new products, etc.

As may be appreciated, 3D printing is here to tremble and innovate the whole industry, both manufacturing and IP, and while many consider that only minor adjustments to international legal frameworks are required to prevent that 3D printing has a negative impact or takes part in illegal practices such as counterfeiting, others are not so optimistic and see 3D printing as a direct enemy of the industry, particularly for countries that dependent directly on their manufacturing industry; therefore, it is required to make major political and legal changes for mitigating the significant impact that this technology will have in the immediate future.

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3D printing and its impact on Intellectual Property