Protecting IP in a 3D Printed world

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Three-dimensional printing technology has made impressive advances over the last several years. Thirty years ago when 3D printing was first invented, this new technology was rather expensive, difficult to use, and limited to prototyping of only small components. Today, significant developments in 3D printing technology, work flow control software, and materials science have all allowed 3D printing to be used in virtually every technology and business sector—from 3D printing of industrial products and components, to even bioprinting of human organs.

3D printing is also no longer limited to fabricating components from a single material and can today combine multiple printing materials to 3D print fully functional multi-material components, including drones and other electrical and mechanical devices. While there has been great excitement about the many advantages and benefits that 3D printing presents, commentators have pointed out that the proliferation of 3D printing technology will have significant implications to traditional business and legal frameworks, and notably to existing intellectual property (IP) laws. This article looks at some of the ways 3D printing technology fails to mesh with existing IP law and offers possible strategies to address some of these concerns.

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