The International Data Corporation published findings about the 3D printing market that predict an increase on global spending on 3D printing (a 27% compound annual growth rate from nearly $11 billion in 2015 to $26.7 billion in 2019). Those figures have big implications for some markets. The IDC pointed out that lower-priced 3D printers and affordable materials that exploded onto the scene over the last three years have contributed to the widening of the 3D printing industry, and that consumer, education, healthcare and other manufacturing markets are now involved.
3D printing has changed the way previously mass-produced goods are manufactured, and how they can now be “customized for individual needs and requirements,” according to the IDC. But as 3D printing capabilities become more commonplace, other issues are likely to emerge, notably in the intellectual property and legal worlds.
A study conducted in 2015 in the U.K. examined the implications for intellectual property law, and whether 3D printing will have an impact on IP law. The study, commissioned by the Intellectual Property Office, concluded that “there is nothing to indicate that the activity on 3D printing online platforms is a mass phenomenon yet. As such, there is no urgency to legislate on 3D printing at present.”
The study also found “that there will be little commercial impact on either the automotive or domestic appliance aftermarket within the next decade as a function of either consumer 3D printing or industrial AM.”
While 3D printing may not be affecting the auto industry yet, it’s harder to claim that it won’t affect the IP world. In the U.S., for example, the debate has focused on concerns for the Federal Drug Administration and the creation of medical devices and the Federal Aviation Administration and the development of aircraft devices. Indeed, any device, really, that uses a blueprint with a patent on it could be affected.
Another fractious issue in the U.S. is the printing of firearms. Legislators have failed to pass a ban on the printing of 3D guns, though the U.S. State Department proposed rules in 2015 that would make it illegal to post blueprints for 3D-printed guns online. Defense Distributed and Cody Wilson, the creator of the 3D-printed Liberator handgun, are currently embroiled in a lawsuit against the State Department after Wilson was ordered to remove the the 3D printing files for the Liberator online. Naturally, politicians have taken sides. But, as with any gun debate in the U.S., it will continue to be a fraught one. In the meantime, 3D printing continues to soar in use, and raise questions for manufacturers, patent owners, and regulators alike.