3D Printing And Medtech: The IP Challenge

At present, 3D printing - or additive manufacturing - struggles to compete with traditional methods of mass production on price. However, in industries such as medtech - where products are far more likely to be bespoke to an individual patient - additive manufacturing is far more applicable, putting medtech at the forefront of what many believe will be the next step-change in manufacturing. The US FDA's recent approval of Spritam, a 3D printed epilepsy drug from Aprecia Pharmaceuticals, is likely to be just the first of many 3D printed medical products to come to market as 3D printing technology gets ever more sophisticated.

The intellectual property implications

Securing intellectual property (IP) on pioneering inventions can be challenging, requiring technological foresight in an area that is likely to change in character over the medium or even short term (and certainly over the 20-year term of a patent). There is also the possibility that new business models associated with the new technology will be of a nature that is, at present, not adequately covered by standard methods of protecting IP.

This in itself is not unusual, and legal systems by their very nature often react to change rather than anticipate it. As such, it can be expected that the manner in which the legal systems perceive and deal with IP in the additive manufacturing field will change over time to the advantage of rights owners.

The pioneering nature of this technology also means that the opportunities open to innovators can be limitless. The limited availability of 'prior art' allows broad monopoly protection that covers not only innovators' businesses but also provides the possibility of acquiring valid, relevant monopolies in ancillary, noncompeting industries. This can form a basis for independent licensing revenue streams without risking an...

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