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Additive Manufacturing-3D Printing

Additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing, is revolutionizing manufacturing and the world economy.  A phenomenal technology with groundbreaking implications for numerous industries, 3D printing is already having a profound effect on aerospace, automotive, biomedical industries (including bio-printing and prosthetics), mobile commerce, software industries, food industries, chemicals, polymers, and other materials industries, as well as countless consumer products and heavy metal industries.  A wide range of products (including electronics) are being printed in metal, ceramics, cement, and new proprietary materials.

The potential scale of the 3D printing market puts it in a unique position to disrupt the status quo of intellectual property – the technology could raise IP challenges on the same level as those seen in the music industry with the advent of digital technology.  3D printing is expected to result in the loss of at least $100 billion globally in IP each year, and this is likely to grow as the market takes off, with the industry projected to reach $21.2 billion by 2020.

The most significant issue with 3D printing and IP is the manufacture of items for personal use, particularly consumer products.  As with the music industry, which saw IP-protected files shared for free on torrent sites like Pirate Bay, the sharing of electronic files for 3D printing of patent-protected products will have a significant impact on the market.

The potential use of 3D printing to manufacture counterfeit goods is also a concern, since these may not meet the same safety requirements as original products – raising additional product safety and liability issues, and potential reputational damage.  This is especially an issue among products designed for human use and consumption, such as pharmaceuticals, where 10% of counterfeit drugs are expected to be produced using 3D printers by 2019.  Further, this is likely to become an increasingly important issue as 3D printers enter the retail market at price points near those of household inkjet printers.

As with the music industry, organizations will be forced to consider how to enable 3D printing of their products and property in a way that protects their brand and revenue streams, while simultaneously meeting consumer demands.

3D printing’s possible impact on innovation is also a concern.  With 3D printing expected to have a considerable impact on after-market sales of parts, some experts are questioning whether industrial part “IP” as we know it could disappear in the not-too-distant future. 

As the industry moves forward and mass consumption becomes a bigger reality, companies will need safeguards in place that not only protect their property, but ensure they are well-positioned to operate within this new environment.

Benesch has formed a multi-disciplinary team to help new start-ups and established companies leverage and consider the impact of 3D printing on their businesses.  Led by Mark Avsec, Vice-Chair of Benesch’s Innovations, Information Technology and Intellectual Property Group, Benesch’s 3D Printing Group lawyers render guidance, counsel and advice in a variety of disciplines:  imports/exports; regulatory; commercial contracts; tax treatment (accounting of print-to-order revenue); licensing agreements; intellectual property; transportation and logistics; healthcare; products liability; and funding and financing. 

Benesch’s 3D Printing Group sponsors an annual symposium on the latest in 3D.

Feel free to reach out to Mark Avsec directly at 216.363.4151 or mavsec beneschlaw.com. Feel free to reach out to anyone on our team.