UnIntellectual Property (UnIP): Various 3D Printing Technologies

If you have not heard that 3D printing is the next big thing, you must live on Mars.  3D printing is in the news.  I have been to several law conferences discussing the impact of law on 3D printing, and vice versa.  While companies are trying to acquire patent rights in 3D printing and related technologies, there are also companies trying to ensure 3D printing and related technologies become public domain as soon as possible by publishing information that would constitute “prior art.”  Regardless, certain 3D printing technology that has been subject to patent protection is set to expire.  Mashable’s article, 3D Printing Will Explode in 2014 When Key Patents Expire, highlights patents that cover a technology known as “laser sintering.”  Laser sintering is the lowest-cost 3D printing technology and can produce goods that can be sold as finished products because of its high resolution in all three dimensions.

The prediction is that many, many more entities will enter the 3D printing and manufacturing business and it will revolutionize production, even displacing injection molding.  The prediction, one with which I agree to a certain extent, is based upon a similar scenario involving expiring patents in the 3D printing realm.  In particular, another form of 3D printing, fused deposition modeling, was the subject of numerous patents.  Upon their expiration, open-source FDM printers started to become commonplace.  So, whether individual users start to utilize 3D printing more, or, as Mashable predicts, companies in the 3D printing industry are able to utilize such technology in the public domain to further create products and services for consumers, many should look back and recognize that the expiration of patents led to the predicted, and so-called, explosion.

The owner of patent better get rich quick, because upon expiration, the game changes.



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