Intellectual Property in 3D printing

3D printing technology has advanced significantly in a relatively short period of time, writes Maria Peyman, senior associate, Birketts LLP. The advances have resulted in it becoming more affordable, leading to an increase in the popularity of self-production.

Given the range of products that can be created through 3D printing any of the ‘traditional’ intellectual property (IP) rights may apply to a printed item. Patents could apply to a printed item as a whole, or component parts of the printed item.

Registered designs can protect the appearance of an item or parts of an item, whilst unregistered design rights apply to the shape and configuration of items and will equally apply to any copies.

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What does the rise of 3D printing mean for global companies?

It’s long been a lament of astronauts: If only there were pizza in space. So a couple of years ago, NASA awarded a US$125,000 grant to a mechanical engineer to solve the problem. He produced a prototype 3D printer that “prints” layers of food out of powdered cartridges. First comes a layer of dough (cooked via a heat plate at the bottom of the printer); then some tomato powder, water, and oil for a sauce; all topped by a mouthwatering “protein layer.” A 3D-printed pizza has to be at least better than freeze-dried.

If 3D printing can deliver pizza to outer space, what can it do back home? That’s becoming less and less of an idle question as the 3D printer continues to move away from its origins as a bulky, ultra-expensive plaything for hobbyists and early adopters.

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A big picture perspective on additive manufacturing

A couple of trips away from the office in recent weeks have served to reiterate to me the position of the 3D printing and additive manufacturing industry within a much broader context. It’s always a good thing when this happens I find, as it gives me a much wider perspective — both personally and in the way that I approach my work. Sometimes I am guilty of focusing too closely on the minutiae and forget to take a breath and look at the bigger picture within a much larger framework. Thus I am grateful when opportunities arise that allow me to take stock. And so even as 2016 heads towards its close, the bigger picture I speak of is worth considering from a couple of angles.

When I attended IMTS recently, I was wholly struck by the vast size of this trade show; four buildings at McCormick Place were filled, some on multiple levels, with swathes of companies (2,407 of them) offering every conceivable manufacturing product and service. It was immense! The Additive Manufacturing Pavilion was dwarfed by comparison, and did not cover even 1% of the floor space. It was by no means insignificant, and it drew considerable interest and visitor numbers, but it drew a poignant analogy. Moreover, even while appreciating where additive technology currently fits within the spectrum of manufacturing technology in terms of size and revenues ($5 billion versus multi-trillion) the considerable optimism for its current application and future potential is equally real.

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The future of American manufacturing is 3D printing

Manufacturing in the United States is undergoing a transformation — from the inside out.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the idea of mass manufacturing has gained speed to the point that hardly any product on the market today is manufactured on a small scale. However, changes in technology are making small-scale manufacturing viable from a business perspective.

Direct digital manufacturing (DDM) has created the ability to produce low-volume goods and make rapid enhancements to original designs. This benefits consumers by offering flexibility in the products they buy and benefits manufacturers since they can adapt quickly to local and consumer demand.

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More 3D printing patents are expiring soon: Here’s a roundup

A few years ago, the expiration of many key 3D printing patents had the 3D printing community abuzz. The 3D printing patents that expired in the 2013-15 timeframe are described here. At that time, many articles challenged the conventional wisdom that intellectual property drives innovation by creating competition, since the existence of IP forces workarounds. Those articles argue that patents prevented innovation in 3D printing because the fear of being sued led to a lack of investment in 3D printing R&D, and that patent litigation hindered the adoption of the technology. The end result, some believe, is that IP creates barriers to entry for new market players, minimizes competition, and keeps prices artificially high.

The expiration of several key 3D printing patents in 2013, 2014, and 2015 was supposed to change the industry. So what happened? Did the expiration of those patents lead to market growth, reduction in prices, and new products? Or were other forces, such as the technology itself, holding back new 3D printing technologies? Are there other 3D printing patents that will expire soon that could have similar effects? Although it is still too early to give definitive answers to these questions, this article describes developments in the 3D printing industry since the expiration of some of the so-called key patents and discusses 3D printing patents that have or will expire soon.

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3D printing technology on Dubai Metro to reduce costs

Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) has begun printing parts for subsystems of the TVMs (Ticket Vending Machines), ticket gates and other areas of the metro train system using advanced 3D printing technology.

“The 3D printing technology is advancing rapidly across the world and RTA is strongly inclined to be a forerunner in this 3D generation by highlighting the world’s best practices adopted in the rail industry. Future scope includes developments that are required to manage obsolescence, which is a huge burden of any railway worldwide,” said AbdulMohsin Ibrahim Younes, CEO of RTA’s Rail Agency.

“This technology would enable the RTA to keep the Dubai metro assets in service longer while reducing the cost of parts and in turn pass this saving back to the customer. An example of this is when small parts are needed, normal practice dictates a local manufacturer would need to produce hundreds to justify his cost,” Younes noted.

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How 3D printing can revolutionise the medical profession

Groundbreaking 3D printing and scanning techniques are improving access to fully customisable artificial limbs

Cambodian woman Leakhena Laing being fitted for a new device at CSPO private clinic, where 3D PrintAbility training has been taking place, in Phnom Penh.Before the vehicle that she was travelling in flipped over and trapped her right leg, Leakhena Laing was a happy teenager who enjoyed climbing trees and playing football with friends. After her limb was amputated, she could only sit and watch.

“It was difficult to even get a glass of water. I felt hopeless, very sad and embarrassed to be around other people,” says Laing, who was forced to abandon school after the accident nearly four years ago.

She used crutches for two years, before receiving a below-knee (transtibial) prosthetic plaster limb, which improved the quality of her life, although it meant regular visits to a clinic in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, nearly 30 miles away from her home in Borset district, for refittings.

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A vision for 3D printing in Pharma manufacturing

Three-dimensional (3D) printing—a type of additive manufacturing (AM)—has the potential to be the “next great step” in pharmaceutical manufacturing, enabling fabrication of specialty drugs and medical devices, said Emil Ciurczak, Doramaxx Consulting and CPhI expert panel member, in the 2016 CPhI Annual Industry Report. 3D printing could be used for personalized or unique dosage forms, more complex drug-release profiles, and printing living tissue, noted Ciurczak in the report.

Because 3D printing builds an object layer by layer, it could be used to print drug tablets with a personalized dosage, possibly combining multiple drugs into a single dose. Printing a barrier between APIs in a multilayer tablet could facilitate targeted and controlled drug release. Ciurczak proposed some applications where 3D printing could be of benefit. Orphan drugs, for example, may be limited because their market is too small to justify production costs, but a 3D printing process could minimize the cost. Another possible use is for making tablets to calibrate dissolution testers for United States Pharmacopeia testing. Ciurczak suggested that 3D printing could allow these tablets to be made in smaller lots, as needed, rather than once every few years, which could improve reproducibility. Products that would benefit from the lack of high compressive forces in 3D printing of tablets, such as abuse-proof tablets, may be another opportunity.

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How 3D printing can be more than prototyping

How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk — More Than Prototyping: Digital Manufacturing’s Role in Industry 4.0 — by Proto Labs’ CTO Rich Baker at last week’s Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis .

In his talk, Baker discussed several topics, including the limitations of materials and 3D printing processes on the design and production cycle, use cases for 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM), the opportunities and challenges of using these technologies for end-to-end production, and how these and other new technologies are driving shifts in system design methodology.

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Report explores 3D printing’s hidden costs

The perception and promise of 3D printing are that it provides a simple, fast and automated digital workflow, a process where complexity is free. That perception is generally accurate up to the point that parts are removed from the 3D printer. But, as soon as parts enter the post-processing phase, the automated, push-button process becomes a manual operation that has a tangible and significant impact on a company’s bottom line.

Commissioned by 3D printer manufacturer Rize, the report summarizes the post-processing experiences six of global manufacturers representing the automotive, consumer products, medical devices, sporting goods and architecture industries. “3D PRINTING: THE IMPACT OF POST-PROCESSING”  uses the company’s experiences to paint a clear picture of the impact of post-processing requirements in terms of time, cost, quality staffing, facilities and operations, and what eliminating post-processing would mean for their companies.

Read the report