New technologies, old framework: maximising IP protection for 3D printing in the life sciences


Arlene Chow and Nitya Anand

New technologies, old framework: maximising IP protection for 3D printing in the life sciences

Iaremenko Sergii /

IP law has yet to catch up with the technological capabilities of 3D printing, but by taking pre-emptive action, companies can maximise their IP protection under the current legal framework. Arlene Chow and Nitya Anand of Hogan Lovells report.

3D printing technology has transformed the life sciences industry. It is already being used to make marketed medical devices and pharmaceutical products and, with some sources predicting overall 3D printing revenue as high as $21 billion worldwide by 2020, there can be no question that life sciences 3D printing will continue to grow in importance and scope.

However, the current intellectual property framework—which includes copyright, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets—is unable to fully address the unique challenges presented by 3D printing. Indeed, the Gartner group estimates that by 2018 alone, 3D printing will result in the loss of at least $100 billion globally per year in IP. Until IP law adapts, 3D printing innovators will need to take steps to minimise risk under the current framework.

A 3D printer deposits successive layers of a selected material to create a physical object. 3D printers can use different types of media, including plastic, polymer, resin, metal, ceramic, cement, wood, food, human cells, and nanoparticles. The specific parameters of the desired object—including its size, shape, thickness, and colour—are enumerated in digital blueprints known as computer-aided design (CAD) files. Not only can anyone with a CAD file print an identical object from any 3D printer, but duplicates can also be made by scanning the original object to create a new CAD file and then by using that file, in turn, to make copies.

Arlene Chow, Nitya Anand, Hogan Lovells, computer-aided design, trademark, copyright, 3D printing, FDA, medical devices, CAD, DMCA, patent,