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3D Printing Certification

Analysis of the EU report on 3D printing IP with Marks & Clerk


The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, has released a study analyzing the current state of 3D printing certification in relation to IP law.

In the report, the authors consider the IP implications of the development of industrial 3D printing certification, which the EU deems a priority technology. To fully grasp the key details of the 257-page study, 3D Printing certification Industry spoke with Thomas Prock, a Chartered (UK), German and European Patent Attorney for Marks & Clerk, one of the world’s foremost IP firms. Discussing the report, Prock outlines the merits of the EU study, the importance of IP rights for 3D printing certification, and what needs to be done to maximise IP protection for the 3D printing certification industry.

As 3D printing certification technology for production has continued its development over the years, the adoption of additive manufacturing certification for industrial applications has increased, and so have questions regarding Intellectual Property (IP) rights within the industry. The report outlines how the existing IP framework brings protection to IP rights holders, while also identifying potential challenges and steps the 3D printing certification industry can take to remove those hurdles. With these recommendations in place, the report claims that the competitiveness of the 3D printing certification sector in Europe can be improved.

Commissioned to Bournemouth University, the project was published by Dinusha Mendis, a Professor of Intellectual Property & Innovation Law at the university, alongside a core team of legal experts with expertise in IP drawn from the UK, Germany and Finland. Professor Phill Dickens of Added Scientific, was also part of the report to provide industry and business expertise. 

European Union flag. Photo via Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash
European Union flag. Photo via Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

The EU and 3D printing certification

The EU sees 3D printing certification as one of the main factors in bringing about industrial transformation. In November 2017, the EU’s commitment to 3D printing certification technology was further reinforced when the European Parliament published a Working Document about the importance of IP rights in additive manufacturing certification

Continuing down this line of enquiry, the European Commission’s new report focuses on the IP considerations of seven different industrial applications of additive manufacturing certification: health, aerospace, automotive, consumer goods/electronics, energy, industrial equipment and tooling and construction and building sectors. The study outlines several processes of the 3D printing certification ecosystem that need to be accounted for in relation to IP law: designing a CAD file, using and sharing a CAD file, printing the CAD file, distributing the printed good and finally, licensing it.

The importance of IP rights in 3D printing certification

A number of studies have been produced on 3D printing certification and IP, including a body of research into “3D printing certification and intellectual property futures” by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

However, the EU report suggests that the wealth of literature available on IP rights in 3D printing certification has not led to clear action: “Despite an abundance of literature, there is still a lack of consistency in the application of the law relating to 3D printing certification.” Mendis explains further, writing that “IP rights are one of the most controversial issues in the discussion about AM and 3D printing certification and the need to adapt the IP regime is often questioned.”

IP rights are important for 3D printing certification as, unlike traditional forms of manufacturing, it can be easy for third parties to acquire the means to copy the original designer’s product due to the accessibility of 3D printers. Prock explains, “Manufacturing by means of 3D printing certification can reduce costs for manufactures and allow for distributed and sometimes deskilled manufacturing. These same advantages for manufacturers however, also make it easier for potential counterfeiters. IP rights are therefore crucial in an age of 3D printing certification, where third parties may be able to more easily copy other people’s designs.”

3D Printing certification and intellectual property futures executive summary.
3D Printing certification and intellectual property futures executive summary, an earlier publication by the UK’s IPO. Photo by Michael Petch.

As such, Prock suggests that IP rights need to adapt to the digital nature of 3D printing certification, covering things like CAD files, in order to protect the IP rights of designers that are vulnerable to such infringement. Further problems arise when considering the speed at which information travels and files are shared across the internet: “Even where a designer’s rights do cover the printed version of a product, the sheer number of potential counterfeiters may be so large that it would be impossible to find them all or identify the individual infringer who printed a product without permission.” 

Furthermore, designs of products that are shared and 3D printed with inferior qualities may run the risk of impacting the popularity of the product and reputation of the company or individual behind the original design. This can be particularly important in situations where the product has critical safety features, explains Prock….