In the last five years the advent of 3D printing technology has taken hold. Advances in technology have seen 3D printing used across many industries, for the creation of objects ranging from replacement parts for spacecraft, to prostheses (for humans as well as animals), and indeed building works such as houses and bridges.

As the technology continues to develop, and in particular as 3D printing becomes more accessible for individuals, IP right owners will be presented with a wealth of opportunities, thanks to easily scalable production and the ability to reach end customers wherever there is access to a 3D printer. With those opportunities, also comes an increased risk to IP right owners. In this article, we examine some of the challenges to protecting the product designer’s potential patent rights in the context of 3D printing, and how related intellectual property rights may play a key role in the protection of the designer’s creations.

The risks of 3D printing for IP right owners

A particular concern is that more advanced desktop printers will allow individuals to print, rather than buy, new products. At present, even the most expensive desktop 3D printers are limited to printing in one material, most of these being polymers; there are currently no desktop printers capable of printing in metal or printing complicated patterns. However, as the technology develops and becomes more widely accessible, 3D printing will begin to present a greater challenge, and IP right owners should plan now so as to have in place effective strategies for the future.

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