Additive-manufacturing (AM) processes can produce three-dimensional (3D) physical objects that can be used as models, prototypes or even parts for use in service. AM processes can differ from one another based on the types of raw materials that are used, the method through which the raw materials are bound together to form the product or both the materials and the method. However, all AM processes involve five basic steps.

The first step involves the building of a computer-based design (CAD) file. The second step involves converting the CAD file into a stereo-lithography (STL) or similar file. The third step involves data processing of the STL into sliced layers or design elements. The fourth step involves processing the sliced layers or design elements with an AM device or system to produce a raw product. The fifth step involves performing finishing operations on the raw product to produce an end part.

The common feature of AM processes is the ability to produce 3D models, prototypes or parts. The 3D aspect of the product of these processes can have certain intellectual-property (IP) implications. The processes and the material used therein can have other IP implications.


A Hypothetical Case Study

The IP implications of various aspects of AM processes can be illustrated through a hypothetical case study. Suppose that a motorcycle racing team uses new in-house proprietary software to prepare CAD files for a new-design prototype for a fork that is to be used on racing cycles. The fork has a unique 3D shape that has both novel ornamental features and functional features. The motorcycle team comes up with a new name for the fork – the RAPIDFORK™.

 The motorcycle racing team decides to contact a manufacturer that specializes in metal 3D printing to produce a prototype. After entering into a suitable nondisclosure agreement with the manufacturer, the motorcycle racing team sends the CAD file that contains the design to the manufacturer.

The manufacturer discovers that the RAPIDFORK prototype cannot be produced through its standard metal 3D-printing process. However, one of the engineers that is working on the RAPIDFORK project determines that it is possible to modify the company’s standard process to make a working prototype. The engineer later discovers that she can change the composition of the alloy that is used in the process to produce an improved prototype. The company gives the new process a name, RACEFORKPRINTINGSM.

The engineer decides to prepare a technical paper describing the properties of the alloy that is used in the RACEFORKPRINTINGSM process. The manufacturer prepares several marketing brochures that describe the process in a very general way.

We will continue this discussion next time.