The rise of 3D printing has been a hot topic in intellectual property circles for years, but the advent of 4D printing could increase the opportunities and threats significantly, as Sarah Morgan finds out.
The advent of 4D printing has begun—and it will change manufacturing as we know it, according to Carolyn Knecht, Associate General Counsel, Senior Director - Trademarks, Copyrights and Corporate Marketing at HP Inc. (USA).
Ms. Knecht, who spoke at CSA26 4D Printing: How Is 4D Printing Revolutionizing the World in Which We Live? yesterday, called 4D printing the “next industrial revolution.”
But what exactly is 4D printing? It’s the next evolutionary step up from 3D printing. This new process uses “programmable materials” to print the 3D object, according to Laura Winston, Principal of Offit Kurman Attorneys At Law (USA) and panel moderator. The material can then be transformed into another structure through the influence of external stimuli, such as heat, water, or pressure.
According to statistics provided by MarketsandMarkets (USA) and cited by Ms. Knecht, the market for 4D printing is expected to reach US$64.5 million by 2019, and more than US$537 million by 2025.
Population growth, rapid urbanization, and hyperglobalization are just some of the many factors fueling the growth of the 3D and 4D printing industries, she added. “Government and technology companies are looking at 3D and 4D printing to help address some of these issues … It’s going to change manufacturing as we know it.”
Marc Trachtenberg, Shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, LLP (USA), said that to understand 4D printing, it’s imperative to first understand 3D printing.
“There’s been a lot of attention in the media recently but [3D printing] is not new:the technology was first invented in the 1980s,” he said. Since then, technological capabilities have expanded dramatically. This includes printing 3D structures with sugar, chocolate, and living cells, and creating new materials through 3D printing, he added.
3D printing is being used across virtually every industry and its potential is "almost unlimited,” he said, noting that the global market for 3D printing in the medical applications market is expected to reach US$965.5 million by 2019.
For example, in 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first 3D-printed prescription drug, Spritam, which is used to treat partial onset seizures. The technology “wasn’t used for cost purposes, but to enable [the drug manufacturer] to change the structure of the pill so it tastes better and is easily digestible by the body,” Mr. Trachtenberg said.
However, the 4D printing space is still evolving. “Most commercial printers can only print in one material, which limits design choices, but keep in mind that’s where we were 10 years ago with 3D printing,” he said.
Ms. Knecht added, “4D printing is primarily a materials play. You’re going to be able to control the chemical qualities [of the printed object].”
3D printer manufacturers such as HP Inc. will begin offering their own lines of materials, she added. Currently, HP Inc. is working with big chemical companies to co-brand or brand materials, to ensure control quality in the supply chain.
Risks and Benefits
The same attributes that make 3D printing desirable to businesses can also facilitate infringement and make the technology attractive to counterfeiters, Mr. Trachtenberg warned, adding that vulnerabilities stem from the low cost of entry—which keeps getting lower—and the reliance on digital files and Internet connectivity.
At its worst, poisoning of the supply chain (such as where an attacker inserts problematic instructions, potentially creating malformed parts in machinery) could result in physical harm or even loss of life.
However, Ms. Knecht said: “We don’t want fear of infringement to necessarily limit the progress of this industry as there are so many possibilities of what might happen.”
Dr. Julian Potter, Owner at WP Thompson and Representative in International Technology Law Association (ITECHLaw) (United Kingdom), cited the music industry as an example of a sector that needed to adapt to new technologies and the potential infringement that came with it.
“The [music and movie industry] both found that when you digitize something, the content can be reliably and accurately reproduced and very easily distributed,” he said. “That shifted the business paradigm, and it really wasn’t a happy experience for the creators in that industry.”
With new developments, such as 3D and 4D printing, changes need to take place to avoid a repeat of this situation, including any reluctance to adopt a new business model, said Mr. Potter.
He concluded: “You cannot stop the tide of technological advancement. A safe space is necessary so creators will release their works into this new business paradigm-shifted world. We have to make sure the legal environment to manage and control exploitation doesn’t constrain the use of these works.”
INTA, 3D printing, 4D printing, population growth, Offit Kurman Attorneys At Law, MarketsandMarkets, Greenberg Traurig, US Food and Drug Administration