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Patent Infringement: Promises And Pitfalls Of 3D Printing – The National Law Review

by • July 26, 2016 • No Comments

Wednesday, July 27, 2016
3D printing contributes excellent promise for innovation and manufacturing, but this tool has expanded the scope of patented products that can be easily and cheaply copied, and may manufacture it harder to select and prosecute infringers. The USPTO held a conference on legal and policy issues surrounding 3D printing on June 28, 2016.
Intellectual Property Surrounding 3D Printing
According to Russell Slifer, Deputy Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, patent filings relating to 3D printing have increased 23-fold over the last five years, and trademark filings for businesses involved in 3D printing have increased 300% over the same time period. Whilst there is excellent interest and excitement surrounding the promise of 3D printing, there in addition is concern of how 3D printing may manufacture it effortless to copy a patented product with only a hustle of a button.
The Basics Of 3D Printing
3D printing allows for a man to create a three-dimensional object via a wide variety of materials. 3D printing generally involves these steps:
The object create is encoded in a computer-aided create (CAD) file produced by drawing or scanning the object in three size.
The CAD file is converted into a STL file that describes the 3D surface of the object.
3D printing software “slices” the surface into printable layers and transfers instructions on how to print every layer to the 3D printing device.
The 3D printing device prints out the object.To date, 3D printing has been utilized to manufacture toys, car parts, medical devices and actually human organs. In addition to being useful for manufacturing consumer-ready products, 3D printing can be utilized to manufacture prototypes during product development.
Medical Uses Of 3D Printing
The doctors on Grey’s Anatomy have been via 3D printing for several seasons now, but 3D printing in addition is being utilized in real medical situations. As reported by Shafiee and Atala in “Printing Technologies for Medical Applications,” Trends in Molecular Medicine 22: 254-265 (2016), surgeons are via 3D printing to manufacture models of human organs to practice and optimize medical operations. 3D-printed human organs in addition have been utilized for drug testing.
In August 2015, the FDA approved the initially 3D-printed drug, Apricia’s quickly-dissolving SPRITAM® (levetiracetam) product for treating epilepsy. In “A New Chapter in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing: 3D-printed Drug Products,”Advanced Drug Delivery Review (on the market on-line March 18, 2016), James Norman provides an overview of current and future uses of 3D printing in pharmaceutical manufacturing.
Promises Of 3D Printing
3D printing contributes the possibility of manufacturing customized products on a cost-effective basis. At the USPTO conference, John Cheek, Deputy Chief IP Counsel of Caterpillar Inc., highlighted the advantages of 3D printing for the automobile industry, that has utilized 3D printing innovation since the 1980s. He stated that via 3D printing to manufacture car parts can contribute advantages which include reduced costs, reduced mass, and increased high end. 3D printing in addition permits companies to manufacture products (or parts) on demand. Indeed, instead of manufacturing parts themselves, companies can send customers (or retailers) a CAD file to use in their own 3D printing devices.
Pitfalls Of 3D Printing
The showcases that manufacture 3D printing better for manufacturers in addition manufacture it simpler for competitors to create high high end copies of patented objects. All a would-be infringer needs is a CAD file for the object and access to a 3D printing device. CAD files for all kinds of objects are on the market over the internet. If a CAD file is not readily on the market, a 3D scanner can be utilized to generate a CAD file for the object. The availability of 3D printing devices in addition is quickly growing, and a number of companies contribute 3D printing services. These makes it to in 3D printing manufacture it simpler to copy patented objects.
The availability of 3D printing in addition manufactures it additional challenging to enforce patent rights. At the USPTO conference, Professors Tim Holbrook and Lucas Osborn discussed the problems of enforcing patents on products that can be easily 3D printed, and referred to their new article, “Digital Patent Infringement in an Era of 3D Printing,” 48 U.C.D.L. Rev. 1319 (2015). They stated that for the reason CAD files are not considered component parts of an invention, providing CAD files is not considered contributory infringement. They explained that while sharing CAD files can be considered inducing infringement, liability for induced infringement requires (i) an act of direct infringement, (ii) specific intent to induce infringement, and (iii) an affirmatory act by the inducer.
As to the initially requirement, it may be complex or not easy to select direct infringers in the 3D printing context, for the reason a direct infringer may anonymously download the CAD file over the internet and print the object at home. As to the 2nd requirement, it may be complex to prove specific intent to induce infringement, since the company selling the CAD file may not understand the object is patented.
Patent holders concerned with these issues may not take much comfort if they appear to the experiences of the music industry, that struggles to preserve copyrights in the age of digital downloads.
Implications For Patent Protection
Inventors preserveing objects susceptible to 3D printing may try to get patents that encompass CAD files and 3D printing methods. But, geting and enforcing such claims can be complex in light of current jurisprudence surrounding patenting abstract ideas and software under Alice and Bilski. Indeed, preserveing inventions against copying by 3D printing is a challenge under a patent process focutilized on tangible things, and highlights the tension between an economy that values intangible innovation and a patent process that excludes such innovation of preserveion.
Oyvind Dahle is co-author of this article.


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