The 3D printing revolution: Prepare for the risks, leverage the opportunities

3D printing is not just for tchotchkes anymore.  Technological advancement paired with decreasing costs to build and/or purchase 3D printers create the perfect storm for the next industrial revolution.  3D printing technology will virtually transform the way companies conduct business, affecting manufacturing processes, disrupting the supply chain, and transforming  primary and logistics businesses.  Just as importantly, 3D printing, once it takes hold, will have substantial implications on intellectual property (“IP”):  patents, copyrights and trademarks.

Analysts at Gartner predict that “[b]y 2018, 3D printing will result in the loss of at least $100 billion per year in intellectual property globally.”  Gartner Reveals Top Predictions for IT Organizations and Users for 2014 and Beyond, October 8, 2013.  It is easy to imagine why.  For example, today there are a number of “online maker sites.” On Shapeways, users can upload digital design files of products, which Shapeways uses to 3D print products and ship back to the users.  Shapeways also hosts online “shops” for users to sell their 3D printed products.  Through Thingiverse, users can download other users’ design files to print products or “remix” products by modifying a file or merging multiple files.

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