Nov.21, 2013

Intellectual Property deals with protecting the rights of those who create original works and is what gives an inventor the security of his or her future revenue stream.

In 3D printing there are also different types of intellectual property relate to different aspects of the printing process, from copyright in software to control the printer, from design rights in the components, to specialised resins and polymers used in printing, from the design, construction and mode of operation of the printer to trade marks for branding etc. But what does the technology landscape look like through a patent landscape analysis?

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) of UK releases a report which looks at patenting in 3D printing, giving a unique insight into what innovation is actually taking place.

The IPO Patent Informatics team have analysed 9,000 patent records, equating to over 4000 patent families, from 1980 to 2013, and find, patenting linked to 3D printing has sky-rocketed since year 2000. And the key areas of interest include biomedical applications, circuits and electrode fabrication.

Most of the top applicants are US based companies, or inventors not based in US but file their patent there. The report highlights many active players covering a wide range of applications. some of the top applicants, such as Fujitsu and NEC, have been involved in the patenting of 3D printing related technology for over 20 years. In contrast, some of the other top applicants, such as Stratsys and Corp Z, have filed for patents in this area only relatively recently.

Thus this figure below also shows when certain applicants have entered the technology space (e.g.Objet Geometries since 1989) and others have stopped patenting in the field (e.g.LG Phillips after 2004). It also shows Fujitsu has not been active in this area for some time and that the granted patents owned by Fujitsu will soon expire. Though the company has recently announced their new plan to get involved into 3D printing, such as offering 3D printing service for building prototypes and precision components.

Both Stratasys and 3D systems did not apply for any patent until 1993 and 1990 respectively. Stratasys did not start up until 1989 and was floated on the stock market in 1994. 3D Systems was founded in 1986 with a rapid acquisition process that initiated in 2011. The report shows there is very little between the major players in this technology as the top three applicants all have the almost exactly the same number of patents.

Another interesting fact is that there is a high degree of interest in biotechnological aspects of this field. The area of 3D printing is well known as being an example where dental implants and prosthetics can be custom made for the user without creating high degrees of waste or causing difficulties in manufacture such as excess time. See the graph below.

There are also a number of highly cited patents in this technology which are are now relatively new and will expire soon. It will be interesting to see how the technology area evolves given this expiry.

You can download the report '3D Printing - A patent overview' here on IPO's site.

Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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