A 3D vision for businesses facing the growing printing trend

Protection – licensing, lawsuits and legislation?

One fundamental step would be for organisations to learn more about the true capabilities of the technology. 3D technology was first introduced in the late 1980s, however it is only the recent rapid advancement of technology that has seen it become more accessible and affordable to consumers for everyday use. The machines sell for between $5,000 and $5m, and at the high end there is an unprecedented level of sophistication and functionality that needs to be fully understood by businesses to realise its impact.

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A good first step could be to set up an internal taskforce to explore the basic areas of 3D printing in terms of how it can help or potentially hurt the business, and how that organisation can get deeper into the industry. Another step could be to search the online spaces for instances of infringement such as unauthorised brand use of counterfeiting. However, enforcement of brand rights can be challenging, particularly as infringers using small 3D printers would be difficult to find.

Alternative routes may include targeting the other parties involved, such as those responsible for uploading files that could be used to create infringing products to either the online maker spaces or the file sharing sites where 3D printer files are exchanged. Brand owners may even be tempted to tackle the 3D printer manufacturers directly, however they would have to produce evidence of encouragement or inducement to infringe.

New business models

A more forward-looking approach would be for companies to take to 3D printing as an opportunity to adopt new distribution models and brand engagement strategies. One realistic scenario for brand owners would be to offer authentic, authorised design files that consumers could print themselves on their own 3D printers and effectively make digital blueprints available on a web platform. Some of the world’s biggest brands have already kick started their 3D printing strategies and if these early efforts prove successful, it will pave the way for other major brands to jump on the 3D printing bandwagon with their own innovative marketing and distribution models.

While the 3D printing revolution may have created a range of exciting opportunities for marketers and 3D printing users, it also has a significant impact on brand owners, as objects that are protected by trademark or other intellectual property rights may be printed and distributed without permission. 

Brand owners need to be aware of and prepare for this disruptive technology and develop a strategy that defends against the risks of 3D printing while capitalising on the opportunities it presents. The business world seems to be one step closer to a world where consumers can simply print out their own products and brand owners who are fully prepared for the impact of 3D printing and can adapt to it, are the ones that will survive and thrive.

Ronda Majure is VP, head of global sales at ‎Thomson CompuMark.

With 3D printing on the rise, we took a look at whether home 3D printers are set to shake up industries.

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