When Imagination and Reality Meet

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The recent debates on 3D printing technology vs patents calls for an insight into this hot topic. Google trends indicate a startling rise in the search interest for ‘3D printing’ in 2013. 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a process of creating a three-dimensional solid object of any shape and size from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. Ranging from standard applications like design visualization, prototyping/CAD, metal casting, architecture, education, geospatial, healthcare, and entertainment/retail, to several industrial applications such as rapid prototyping, rapid manufacturing and mass customization, this technology holds promise towards a future where imagination and reality are separated by just the click of a print command.

A recent article from Quartz provides several interesting examples of architectural projects and experiments using 3D printers. A news article by BBC News Technology dated the 15th of this month on 3D-printed canal home in Amsterdam definitely catches one’s attention. To quote the author: “It may seem like science fiction or the kind of fantastical vanity project expected of a millionaire, but this is really a visionary concept of idealistic, but level-headed, architects operating with modest budgets, whose focus is on social housing”.

A study conducted by eco composites indicates 3D printing market value of $8.4 billion in 2025 from $777 million in 2012. Small-volume manufacturing will see the market value go up by thousand folds from just about $ 1 million in 2012 to $1.1 billion by 2025.

In 2012, the two main publicly traded 3-D printing company stocks both saw meteoric share price rises. Stratasys (SSYS) leapt 162%. Meanwhile, 3D Systems (DDD) blasted 263% higher.

A major concern facing this much-talked-about creative innovation is patent infringements and lawsuits. Manufacturing a patented invention by anyone other than the patent-holder is an infringement, and thus, using a 3D printer to intentionally or unintentionally create any patented invention could lead to serious trouble in the court of law. Other than patents, copyrights and trademarks are also set to pose threat to additive manufacturing. A step in protecting related inventions was seen when a patent for a DRM system on 3D printers (U.S. 8,286,236) was granted by U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to Intellectual Ventures on October 9, 2012.

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Patent filing trends in this domain shows an ever increasing trend. However, with Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) taking a leap in trying to protect 3D printing against patents and pending patent applications, the future calls for a wait-and-watch.

(Featured image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/55/3Dprinting_2.jpg)

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Boolu Ann Gabriel

A baker by passion and a water sports adventurer, Ann enjoys analyzing world culture. Imagination and creativity reflect strongly in her patent analyses and her blogs mirror just that.


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