IP 'could become irrelevant' as 3D printing takes off

3D printing impact on IPIn as little as 10 years, home 3D printers will be able to make things with almost any functionality, bypassing the traditional supply chain, predicts an intellectual property expert.

The consequences for IP will be profound and far-reaching, argues John Hornick in an article in recently-launched journal 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing, suggesting that 3D printing of trademarked products could lead to "counterfeiting on steroids."

The expansion of the number of 'Makers' - an open manufacturing community focused on collaborative innovation and the democratisation of design and manufacturing - means that increasingly items are being made 'away from control', in other words without anyone knowing about it and without anyone being able to control it.

With plastics, metals, ceramics, electricity-conducting graphene and even glass now being 3D printed the range of products that can be copied or adapted becomes almost endless, as does the potential to massively disrupt traditional business models.

"Eventually, anyone will be able to recreate an existing product design and manufacture and distribute it, or simply make and use it," writes Hornick. "Away from control infringement will proliferate and IP will become increasingly irrelevant," who suggests copying things may soon become as easy as downloading illegal music.

The article includes a checklist of disruptive items that once in play will make IP largely irrelevant for many industries, namely: the ability to build big things; speed or scale to rival mass production; development of hybrid materials; the ability to print complex structures; printing at microscale; hybrid machines; and an explosion in the number of personal printers.

Most of these are already in development but - for now at least - cannot be down 'away from control'. When that happens, everything will change, according Hornick.

"Consider the Encyclopedia Britannica; it no longer exists because it was a closed system," writes Hornick. "It was replaced by an open-system, Wikipedia. 3D printing, combined with the Internet and the open innovation movement, has the same potential for IP," he suggests.

The complete article can be read here.

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