3D Printing and Patent Law: A Disruptive Technology Disrupting Patent Law?

International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition Law (IIC), Forthcoming

31 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2017

See all articles by Geertrui Van Overwalle

Geertrui Van Overwalle

KU Leuven - Centre for IT & IP Law (CiTiP)

Reinout Leys, LL.M


Date Written: October 18, 2016


Concerns have been raised that the upsurge of 3D printing technology would disrupt the patent system. The central question the present paper aims to address is whether and to what extent the emergence of 3D printing technology indeed urges us to rethink patent law. The paper splits up this question by looking at two facets in more depth – patentability and infringement – through the lens of pertinent European and US law. In order to provide a better understanding on the reach of patentability and infringement theory and practice and their possible interpretation in a 3D printing context, a set of different scenarios is established covering the perspectives from rights holders (inventors/producers) and users (hobbyists/consumers).

The paper concludes that the wide uptake of 3D printing does not fundamentally challenge the premises of patent law. 3D printing does not upset patentability theory in general: it does not challenge prevailing concepts of patentable subject matter, nor current patentability requirements. However, digitized fabrication challenges the type/token dichotomy on which patent ontology is founded. 3D printing does not boulverse infringement theory either: it does not fundamentally alter the scope of rights, concepts or direct/indirect infringement assessment traditions. However, the emergence of 3D printing and the decentralization of production it entails, may lead to a wider and more dispersed scale of infringement, putting into question the adequacy of current enforcement tools and strategies. A lack of adequate enforcement tools might well undermine the innovation incentive rationale dominating current patent law.

Keywords: 3D Printing Technology, European and US Patent Law, Eligible Subject Matter, Substantive Patentability Requirements, Infringement, Enforcement, Inventor and User Perspective

JEL Classification: D23, D45, H 41, K11, L14, L 65, O31, O32, O34

Suggested Citation

Van Overwalle, Geertrui and Leys, LL.M, Reinout, 3D Printing and Patent Law: A Disruptive Technology Disrupting Patent Law? (October 18, 2016). International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition Law (IIC), Forthcoming . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2959753

Geertrui Van Overwalle (Contact Author)

KU Leuven - Centre for IT & IP Law (CiTiP) ( email )

Sint-Michielsstraat 6 box 3443
Leuven, 3000

HOME PAGE: https://www.law.kuleuven.be/citip/en/staff/00015469

Reinout Leys, LL.M

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

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