Intellectual Property Protection in Additive Manufacturing

Author: Laura Boen

ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING (AM), also known as 3D printing has developed over time from a plaything to a viable technology for the future of industry. Companies now have the ability to print components in a wide range of materials on-demand when and where they need them. Numerous international brands have begun to offer devices for the additive manufacturing of for example, prototypes or spare parts. Even though the printing process itself is deceptively simple, it is an extreme feat of technological innovation, and it remains quite a costly proposition. But as has always been the case with groundbreaking technologies, time will overcome these growing pains and establish AM as a regular part of the industrial experience.

What can be protected?

Intellectual property protection through the entire chain of AM can be a complex problem.

First, the object’s designer who has created a 3D blueprint of the piece with a specialized software tool. He would be interested in protecting his blueprints from theft and in having some means of tracking how many of his pieces are produced, irrespective of when and where in the world this happens.

Next, the dedicated and sophisticated software packages which translated the 3D design data into a layered model, because the actual printers create the pieces additively, i.e. layer upon layer.

Further, the printing process, which might in turn be affected by the material properties also need to be considered, as they might change over time or with changing temperatures.

Finally, the ability to count the number of printed objects must be included in the printer management itself (system) to ensure meaningful controls over the process.

Additive manufacturing is considered a future market – but the future starts today. Many sectors of industry have already realized its potential for small production runs. This great future potential will, however, be influenced substantially by the fact that the people printing the objects are not necessarily the people who own the rights to them. There are also opportunities for dedicated agencies that can take over 3D printing jobs for other businesses in their vicinity. All of this makes uncompromising Intellectual Property protection and flexible monetization options an absolute must for the technology.