3D printing and IP law

Author:Elsa Malaty - Guilda Rostama
Position:Lawyer, Associate in the law firm Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP - Doctor in Private Law, Paris, France

3D printing technology emerged in the 1980s largely for industrial application. However, the expiry of patent rights over many of these early technologies has prompted renewed interest in its potential to transform manufacturing supply chains. The availability of low-cost, high-performance 3D printers has put the technology within reach of consumers, fueling huge expectations about what it can... (see full summary)


3D printing in a nutshell

The 3D printing process starts either with a digital file in which the object to be printed is digitally formatted using either 3D print software, or a 3D scanner. The file is then exported to a 3D printer using dedicated software, which transforms the digital model into a physical object through a process in which molten material is built up layer upon layer until the finished object emerges. This process is also referred to as additive manufacturing.

The 3D printers available today use a variety of materials ranging from plastics to ceramics, and from metals to hybrid materials. The technology is evolving at a breathtaking pace. For example, MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory recently developed a 3D printing technique to print both solid and liquid materials at the same time using a modified off-the-shelf printer, opening up a huge range of possible future applications.

3D printing technology is evolving at a breathtaking pace, with applications in areas ranging from food and fashion to regenerative medicine and prosthetics.

The expanding range of materials used for 3D printing means that the technology’s application is having an impact on a whole range of industries, fostering new opportunities for innovation and business development.

Within the medical field, for example, researchers at the National University of Singapore have found a way to print customizable tablets that combine multiple drugs in a single tablet, so that doses of medicines are perfectly adapted to the needs of individual patients. 3D printing is also making its mark in the fashion industry, as evidenced by the unveiling at New York Fashion Week in September 2016 of “Oscillation”, a multi-colored 3D-printed dress by threeASFOUR and New York-based designer Travis Finch. Even the agro-food industry is exploring the potential of 3D printing for customized food products.

Advantages of 3D printing

The potential advantages of 3D printing are numerous for innovation-intensive companies. In particular, 3D printing allows them to reduce their overheads when developing, designing and testing new products or improving existing ones. They no longer have to pay for costly prototypes but can rapidly and cheaply undertake multiple iterations of complex elements in-house using 3D printers.

Fostering the development of 3D printing

Recognizing the transformative potential of 3D printing, many countries have already adopted, albeit...

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