3D printing and trademarks – the challenges and opportunities ahead

While it is still early days for the technology, the market is growing and a range of brands have already started incorporating 3D printing into their manufacturing, marketing and market delivery processes. Clearly, there is momentum behind the additive manufacturing revolution; and for brand owners, the technology brings both opportunity and risk.

shutterstock_174692615.jpg

Picture: Iaremenko Sergii/Shutterstock

Analysts from tech research and advisory firm Gartner recently identified 3D printing (also referred to as ‘additive manufacturing’) as one of the top 10 technology trends to follow in 2015. With worldwide shipments of 3D printers expected to increase by 98% this year (followed by a doubling of unit shipments in 2016), “3D printing will reach a tipping point over the next three years as the market for relatively low-cost 3D printing devices continues to grow rapidly and industrial use expands significantly. New industrial, biomedical and consumer applications will continue to demonstrate that 3D printing is a real, viable and cost-effective means to reduce costs through improved designs, streamlined prototyping and short-run manufacturing”.

While it is still early days for the technology, the market is growing and a number of online retail platforms have launched to facilitate the sale of 3D printed objects, with retail heavyweights such as eBay and Amazon early adopters. A range of brands – including Hershey, Boeing, Nike, Sesame Workshop and Coca-Cola – have already started incorporating 3D printing into their manufacturing, marketing and market delivery processes. Even astronauts on the International Space Station have utilised additive manufacturing while in orbit.

Clearly, there is momentum behind the additive manufacturing revolution; and for brand owners, the technology brings both opportunity and risk. On the one hand, there is the capacity to deliver products to consumers through new channels and the prospect of increased licensing and revenue opportunities. On the other, there will be new marketplaces to police, new types of brand misuse to counter and the potential headache of fighting counterfeiters who, rather than having to navigate customs authorities, will be able to give individual consumers the ability to make their own imitation goods. Gartner predicts that by 2018, 3D printing will result in the loss of at least $100 billion per year in intellectual property globally.

We present an in-depth examination of the technology. First, Fatima Qasim of United Trademark and Patent Services provides an introduction to the technology, a history of its development and, crucially, an outline of the big-picture IP issues.

The UK Intellectual Property Office recently conducted a review of the IP implications of 3D printing, examining the extent of its use on online platforms and in selected sectors and asking whether existing laws are fit for purpose in this brave new world. We present some of the highlights and key recommendations.

Drilling down into the IP considerations for corporates, IP Law Peru’s Rodrigo Estrada Romero considers the role that design protection will play in the fight against infringement.

Meanwhile, Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner’s John F Hornick considers how the new technology may influence licensing practice and strategies, outlining some of the key considerations when seeking to partner with licensees or offer designs and products via the 3D community.

Finally, fashion law and technology specialist Joseph F Murphy presents an industry-specific look at the impact of 3D printing in the fashion sector and how IP issues may play out.

Get unlimited access to all WTR content