• What you should be aware of regarding 3D printing and IP rights

    In recent years, 3D printing has become more popular
    in different industries, from toys, auto parts and
    garments, to organs for implants and medical devices.
    Canalys estimates the 3D printing market value will grow
    from its current $3.8 billion to $16.2 billion by 2018.
    In 2013 Gartner Inc., the world’s leading information
    technology research and advisory company, also predicted
    that “by 2018, 3D printing will result in the loss of at least
    $100 billion per year in intellectual property globally”.

    3D printing is a process in which a three-dimensional
    object is created by putting together successive layers of
    material. Such material can be selected from a very vast
    variety, going from plastics and metals to bio-based resins
    and biological tissue, and the resulting 3D object can
    have any color or combination of colors. The process starts
    with a virtual design, a CAD (Computer Aided Design)
    file of the desired object, which is created using a 3D
    modelling application or a 3D scanner.

    Using this technology, users can make a 3D digital
    copy of almost any object, which is not always the result
    of the users own ideas and inventive. As a consequence,
    the final product could be the result of another person’s
    original idea or a copy of an already existing commercial
    product. This can be seen as a threat to right holders whose
    products are protected by IP rights, such as trademarks,
    copyrights, industrial designs and patents.


    With respect to trademarks, owners must pay special
    attention to the purposes for which the 3D product will
    be used. Meaning that, the 3D printing of trademarked
    products could lead to counterfeiting, since unauthorized
    copies of a product including brand names, logos and/or
    special designs of a company, can now be produced and
    be sell as the original.

    For example, imagine that you are the owner of a
    trademark covering the appearance of a chocolate which
    distinguishes it from others of the same class in the market.
    With this 3D printing technology, any person could now
    produce chocolates with the same physical appearance
    and sell them as the legitimate product. Additional to the
    IP concerns, there is also the concern that such products
    do not contain the safety and quality of the ingredients
    that form the original product.

    To address these concerns, trademark owners will now
    need to include monitoring programs for any products
    created by 3D printing technologies into their brand, and
    must ensure that their products are fully protected, not
    only by including brand names and logos but also the
    protection of three-dimensional trademarks for those
    products which may have a distinctive character.


    Copyrights protect artistic works, but not the function of
    objects. The rights for copyright holders include the
    reproduction, distribution, communication to the public/
    making available of their works, and the right to
    transform them into derivative works. In this regard,
    copyrighted items like ornaments, sculptures, and toys
    can be protected against 3D printing. Nevertheless, it is
    advisable for copyright holders that, in order to have a
    robust protection against 3D printing, it is recommended
    to have other forms of protection included in their products,
    such as trademarks, industrial designs, and/or patents.

    Industrial designs and patents

    Industrial designs protect the external appearance of a
    product, and because of the nature of 3D printed objects,
    they are often considered as one of the most powerful
    protection methods against 3D printing. With a 3D scanner it is possible to scan an object and have a digital 3D model of the same within minutes, speeding up the process of recreating a design.

    IP right holders must be aware of the importance of protecting every
    aspect of their products, even with two or three industrial designs to
    give fully protection to the appearance of their creations.

    With respect to patents, these share more or less the same scenario
    as industrial designs. Products or parts of products that can be protected
    by a patent can be produced by 3D printing. Patents give a broader
    protection to products, for instance, the product itself, how it works,
    what it does, or how it is used.

    In order to obtain a better protection against unauthorized use,
    it is advisable to companies to draft their patent claims including
    provisions for protection against 3D printing, which can include
    methods for producing their products with a 3D printer or the 3D
    printed product itself. As an example, in 2013, Lego A/S filed a patent
    application which covers a method for the manufacture of a plastic
    product. The second component for the product is made by a process
    in which it is built in a layer-by-layer fashion, such as by 3D printing,
    and a plastic product comprising a first component and a second
    component in which the second component is built in a layer-bylayer
    fashion from a plastic material, such as 3D printing. This type of claim protection may be need in the near future to ensure a better enforcement of patent rights against the growing 3D printing technology.


    Companies wishing to protect their products against 3D printing and
    the possibilities of infringement are facing a real challenge. Nevertheless,
    it is possible to arm themselves with a robust strategy leading with the
    possible issues concerning this new technology. IP owners must now think of a complete protection for their products, and they must consider incorporating the protection of trademarks, industrial designs, copyrights and patents to the same product, creating a barrier for third parties trying to infringe their rights.

    If you require more information please contact the author:

    Montserrat González Álvarez –