Accelerating the 3D printing journey: quality and IP considerations

The following excerpt is taken from EY report: If 3D printing has changed the industries of tomorrow, how can your organization get ready today? The trends, sector use cases and steps to accelerate your 3D printing journey.

With current laws clearly out of sync with the rapidly emerging technology behind 3D printing (3DP), there are many unanswered questions around liability.

Quality assurance

If manufacturing moves to users, who will be accountable for product functionality or potential hazards? How will regulations change in a 3D-printed world? In industrial applications specifically, quality of the prints is very important.

As an example, some 3D-printed techniques like direct metal laser sintering and electron beam melting, although made to the specifications of the CAD model, can have very rough finished surfaces. 3DP has received criticism for poor surface quality. However, a study by the Uppsala Universitet proved that in controlled testing with an Arcam A1, the use of a finer powder and a smaller build layer thickness can improve the surface resolution of end products. Companies that have know-how in materials science coupled with the discipline of regimented trial and error to learn the material compositions and the melting properties of powder could do well with additive manufacturing.

IP protection

Public access to blueprints online raises copyright and intellectual property (IP) right concerns.

If anyone can print anything, who is the creator of the object? For example, if a spare part is required and a company doesn’t need to go to the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), there is a potential cost savings opportunity by using “aftermarket” parts, and 3D scanners and printers may make this easier. The process would entail reverse engineering a part with the assistance of 3D scanners, thereby generating 3DP files for use or resale. This would be an IP infringement.

It has been predicted that by 2018, theft of 3DP IP could total roughly US$100 billion in losses per year. In its most basic sense, patent infringement occurs when every element of a claimed invention or process exists in the infringing “physical embodiment” of the product or process. So what does this mean for possessing and creating digital copies of the OEM’s spare parts or other products?

While it remains unclear how lawmakers will balance the scope of the law to prevent it from becoming either too narrow or overreaching, it seems that affording protection to the patent holder against the sale of the CAD file could strike the appropriate balance, essentially preventing infringers from “extract[ing] the commercial value of the invention.”

EY Law Services contacts:


Peter Katko – Global Digital Law Leader



Richard Goold – Global Technology Law Leader