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.