Addressing the risks of additive manufacturing

3D printing’s virtual inventories and on-demand manufacturing offer cost-savings and increased flexibility, but there are risks.

It seems a no-brainer to adopt digital supply chains, but they carry risks that are untenable if not eliminated. For example, how do big brands seize such opportunities while maintaining part consistency and quality and protecting their intellectual property (IP) – and ultimately upholding brand integrity? 

Leo Lane #3

The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a spotlight on the opportunities presented by 3D printing/additive manufacturing (AM), including the possibilities around virtual inventories and on-demand manufacturing. These advantages can deliver cost-savings, increased responsiveness and flexibility to customers, without the need for huge investments. As we’ve seen, the weak link in any supply chain is maintaining and replenishing the physical inventory – an enormously expensive task.

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Mitigate risks to IP during digital disruption

The need for IP to “catch up” with the capabilities of 3D printing is one of the points made in the book Supercharg3d: How 3D Printing Will Drive Your Supply Chain. Until it does, those considering adopting 3D printing in their supply chains should involve their legal and IP advisors to manage the risks. In this article – published in The Engineer – Marks&Clerk Senior Associate Matthew Jefferies, takes a close look at this topic.

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Intellectual property law, and intellectual property strategies, need to move to keep up with the growing 3D printing market, says Matthew Jefferies MPhys, Senior Associate, Marks&Clerk.

The term ‘digital disruption’ has become something of a cliché in recent years, a catch all term used to describe the impact of technologies ranging from artificial intelligence to new communications technologies. What is the reality of digital disruption however, and what can manufacturing and engineering focused businesses do to mitigate the associated risks?

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Lego’s mostly obnoxious IP bullying of the 3D printing community doesn’t make any sense

In the earlier days of Techdirt, Lego made multiple appearances as an IP bully. However, its IP bullying ran into some legal headaches as various courts pushed back again and again and again. The company failed, pretty spectacularly, in its quest to argue that no one could make similar, or even interconnecting, Lego bricks. Its patents long expired, and any copyright and trademark rights were much more limited.

For years, the company has relied on the fact that even with the ability of other companies to copy its designs, really only Lego could manufacture the toy bricks with the kind of exact precision that made them work properly. Knock-offs tended to not connect nearly as well. And Lego’s manufacturing was such that beyond the precision in the blocks, it could also make the blocks so cheaply that it was difficult for anyone to undercut them anyway. Finally, Lego’s brand is pretty powerful in its own right, and many people would buy official Lego products as the default anyway, because of the brand association.

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SLM Solutions and Identify3D collaborate to protect IP in 3D printing

SLM Solutions, a German metal 3D printer manufacturer, has announced that it will integrate the digital security platform of San Francisco-based Identify3D into its workflow. The partnership is an effort to protect intellectual property (IP) in additive manufacturing.

Digital files protected by Identify3D can only be manufactured with an authenticated machine. Image via Identify3D.

CTO of SLM Solutions Dr. Gereon Heinemann, said, “SLM Solutions recognizes the trend as additive transforms manufacturing into a digital workflow.”

Intellectual property in 3D printing

As the applications of 3D printing has widened, protection of intellectual propertyhas become a greater concern. This issue is also among the reasons some companies develop in-house prototyping facilities. Recently, the UK Intellectual Property Office participated in the IP in 3D printing debate.

Founded in 2014, Identify3D aims to protect IP in 3D printing by encrypting the digital supply chain. The company is partners with several leading enterprises including 3YOURMINDRenishawSiemens, and America Makes.

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3D Printing and the Law: Interview with Rania Sedhom

The law and 3D printing is a very exciting emerging area of interest for many. What exactly happens with to 3D printed products and liability or IP? Most people in 3D printing don’t want separate laws for 3D printing or 3D printed goods. But, in 3D printed guns we’ve seen lawmakers jump into the crazy clown car of legislating by press release and make separate laws for 3D printing. What will the future hold? Rania Sedhom of Sedhom Law Group reached out to us to share her insights.

Lawmakers seem intent on creating new legislation specifically for 3D printing. Do you agree with that?

Yes, I do. While the technology is a mesh (pun intended) of software and textile, it is unique and needs its own legislation.

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3D Printing and gaps in Intellectual Property law

In a paper entitled “From IP Goals to 3D Holes: Does Intellectual Property Law Provide a Map or Gap in the Era of 3D Printing?” author Autumn Smith discusses issues with intellectual property law and 3D printing. 3D printing complicated as it “stretches across many facets of the law,” says Smith. It involves a machine, a product, a digital process, and often the translation of that process.

In a paper entitled “From IP Goals to 3D Holes: Does Intellectual Property Law Provide a Map or Gap in the Era of 3D Printing?” author Autumn Smith discusses issues with intellectual property law and 3D printing. 3D printing complicated as it “stretches across many facets of the law,” says Smith. It involves a machine, a product, a digital process, and often the translation of that process.

“The eventual low cost of 3D printing combined with their ability to produce most physical things will fundamentally change the economics of industrial manufacturing,” states Smith. “Much like the Internet, 3D printers separate the content of the product from the information used to create it, which, in turn, will substantially reduce the manufacturing costs. This feature will inevitably mean that the production of items can come from virtually anywhere which will certainly present problems for governments and markets.”

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Major 3D-printing breakthrough could keep design pirates at bay

Trying to prove who designed and built what in 3D printing was envisaged as costly to major manufacturers, until now.

The amazing aspect of 3D printing is that anyone, anywhere, with the right equipment, can print and build an object almost identical to an already existing one.

A clear 3D-printed dome containing a variety of dummy and real QR codes.

While this sounds great in theory, for major manufacturers it creates one major headache: how do you prove a design is yours?

Not only that, but what liability does a company have if someone steals its design, creates a poorly made copy and it leads to a major accident?

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Sparing a thought for Intellectual Property

With the rapid rise of the additive manufacturing sector, it has become increasingly possible for industry players to make spare and replacement parts in a cost-effective manner. What’s more, the sector lends itself especially well to the fabrication of parts for the customisation of existing products and equipment. As such, all parties in the supply chain need to be acutely aware of the very real risks of IP infringement in this evolving space, says Jason Teng, partner and patent attorney at leading full service IP law firm, Potter Clarkson.

As things stand, different considerations apply depending on the type of IP rights covering a particular part or a complex product that includes the part. For instance, the manufacture of a whole patented product would normally constitute patent infringement, unless certain exceptions apply such as private non-commercial use. On the other hand, the manufacture of a spare/replacement part for incorporation into a patented product could either constitute an infringing “making” of the patented product or a non-infringing “repair”, which would vary on a case-by-case basis. On this note, some guidance can be found in a 2011 Supreme Court decision in the Schütz v Werit case.

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CECIMO worries further 3D printing IP regulation in Europe will stifle innovation

CECIMO believes the current 3D printing intellectual property rights framework is fit for purpose.

CECIMO logoCECIMO, the European Association of the Machine Tool Industries, has said the European Parliament risks stifling 3D printing innovation by introducing premature regulatory measures to protect Intellectual Property.

The European Parliament recently released a non-binding resolution entitled ‘Three-dimensional printing: intellectual property rights and civil liability’, with 631 votes in favour, 27 against, and 19 abstentions. It called for sterner parameters surrounding IP infringements and has suggested a potential revision of the Liability and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) regulatory framework for 3D printing within the European Union, and has also raised the feasibility of national copyright levy systems.

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3D Printing could be blockchain’s true game-changer

After multiple proofs of concept, pilots and early rollouts, supply chain management is emerging as the killer app for enterprise blockchain technology, the very first to be “going live” – to cite the theme of this year’s Consensus conference.

But while multiple blockchain projects worldwide are demonstrating how smart contracts, data sharing protocols and cryptographic traceability can unlock trade finance, improve risk management, streamline customs processing and boost transparency, the biggest change for global trade is yet to come.

That will be when the Internet of Things, 3D printing and other automating technologies finally free manufacturing from the constraints of geography. At that moment, blockchain technology could come into its own, enabling an entirely new paradigm of decentralized, on-demand production and forcing a realignment of global economic power.

Reaching this new paradigm requires advances in all these technologies. But just as importantly, it will require manufacturers to adopt a more open-minded approach toward optimizing the balance between competition and collaboration and toward the role that blockchains can play in finding that.

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