Patents have a maximum duration of 20 years, which is considered sufficient time to repay with its monopoly the effort put in the development of a technology. Beyond this time, patents go into public domain and therefore may be reproduced and commercialized without any restriction. This process allows technological development and progress of mankind into a better future.
According to Scott Crump, inventor of fused deposition modelling (FDM) and co-founder of the largest manufacturer of 3D printers, in February 2014 key patents related to three-dimensional printing with the higher business performance, the ones based on selective laser sintering technology (SLS), will pass into public domain.
Scoot Crumps knows well what he says, since the patents of his technology FDM became of public domain in the last decade, which cause a revolution in the sector that spread the use of this technology. FDM modelling is a process which creates plastic layers melted in the right point, which solidify upon cooling.
SLS technology (selective laser sintering) was developed in the 80s by the Mechanical Engineering Department of the University of Texas, and consists in using a high power laser to fuse small particles and give them the desired shape starting from a digital three-dimensional design.
The following video, created by the University of Texas, shows how to use in concrete the selective laser sintering.
As it can be seen, despite being far from the capabilities of the latest 3D printing technologies, which for example have created the first 3D printed car, allows achieving a high level of precision and definition, besides working with several materials such as plastic, metal, ceramic or glass. Consequently, this technology can directly produce goods ready for sale.
After the release of key patents, a significant reduction of manufacturing costs of 3D printers is expected and its common use in manufacturing processes. This phenomenon is expected to have particular impact in China.
This globalization of 3D printers will help in rapid generation of prototyping tools, which will necessarily reduce costs and time in the research process, especially in sectors such as automotive, medical and aerospace.
This cost reduction is also an innovative power release which should result in a greater number of patent applications resulting from these “low cost” investigations. The increase in the number of patents is reinforced by the fact that 3D printing will allow an easy reproduction and industrial property rights will be a fundamental tool against reproduction.
3d Impressions and patents: unexpected turn
About the relationship between 3D printing and patents, there has been recently a nice unexpected turn. Martin Galese, a New York city-based attorney, is collecting public domain patents based on U.S patents database in order to reproduce the plans of its objects and reproduce them by 3D printing.
Moreover, he puts the images freely on the web. Specifically, in an account of the micro blogging platform Tumblr called Patent-able, and in this account in Thingverse, which is an internet platform dedicated to three-dimensional printing.demás las figuras las pone a libre disposición en la red.
This last platform also allows downloading printing models, so if you have a 3D printer you will be able to reproduce them.
We will closely monitor the evolution of the relationship between patents and three-dimensional reproduction, which will become especially interesting after the arrival of three-dimensional bio impression. It is also likely that its massive use may lead to new legislative debates on Intellectual Property rights.