Interest in 3D printing strongly on the rise

21 July 2020

The conference on additive manufacturing, "Shaping tomorrow: 3D printing and its impact on IP" drew viewers from Europe and beyond. Jointly hosted by the EPO and European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), the event was initially scheduled to take place in Berlin in spring but had to be postponed following the outbreak of the coronavirus, and then  moved to a digital format.  The conference became the Office's first major digital gathering, with 2 000 participants watching the live stream. The post-conference recordings, comprising daily highlights as well as full proceedings, have since been viewed over 11 500 times.

Screenshot from 3D printing conference

António Campinos, EPO President, and Christian Archambeau, Executive Director of the EUIPO, opened the gathering with a lively discussion, moderated by Roberta Romano-Götsch (Chief Operating Officer of the sector Healthcare, Biotechnology and Chemistry at the EPO ), on the impact of 3D printing on the economy, society and intellectual property system.

"Additive manufacturing is a gamechanger," said the EPO President. "It has reinvented the rules of manufacturing and is pushing the boundaries of what we previously thought was possible. It is a key driver of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and could even pave the way for an industrial renaissance in Europe in the future."

Executive Director Archambeau agreed on the potential of the technology: "Additive manufacturing provides a great opportunity to participate in a new economic model with decentralised production and distribution which has a lower impact on the environment. In this model, smaller companies can respond to flexible customer demand in a way that integrates the local economy into the production and distribution of products."

An expert point of view

Over the course of four days, legal experts, inventors, investors, and academics discussed what could be done to minimise risks and leverage opportunities in the additive manufacturing arena.

Johannes Homa, CEO of Lithoz, spoke on his journey from idea to commercialisation, and stressed the importance of protecting innovation: "We founded the entire company on intellectual property rights. Our IP portfolio strengthens our market position and empowers us to obtain funding."

Futurist Patrick Dixon delivered a lively and candid presentation on the potential of 3D printing: "We are still only in the first hour of first day of 3D printing." He argued that traditional manufacturing still has a role to play and that the greatest innovation may come from the fusion of different technologies.

Yann Ménière, EPO Chief Economist, presented findings from "Patents and additive manufacturing: Trends in 3D printing technologies". This recently published landscaping study revealed that patent applications at the EPO related to additive manufacturing are rising rapidly, achieving average annual growth of 36% from 2015 to 2018. The study also indicates that since 2010, the healthcare sector has generated the greatest demand for patents (4 018 applications), followed by energy and transport (2 001 and 961 applications respectively).

The event drew to an uplifting close as Cristian Fracassi, CEO and founder of Isinnova, shared his story of using additive manufacturing to rapidly produce much-needed valves for ventilators during the coronavirus outbreak: "In less than 24 hours we had 2600 manufacturers who had turned on their 3D printers to give valves to hospitals all over the world."

Fracassi now works with developing regions to establish additive manufacturing processes so that these areas can produce their own medical supplies, thereby saving lives and supporting economic development. "In the end, the desire to help wins above all things." 

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