The Future of Licensing and IP in 3D Printing

The Future of Licensing and IP in 3D Printing

Every day there is a new faster, cheaper and higher quality 3D printer ready to open countless opportunities for personal and professional users alike. But, with this rapid growth in 3D printing technology, comes the issue of intellectual property (IP) in 3D printed designs, and the need for companies to proactively shape that emerging landscape. This article will briefly cover the major ways that brands can take advantage of licensing and IP in 3D printing.


What are the IP-Related 3D Printing Challenges?

Intellectual property, the rights granted an individual for creations of the mind, is vital to the growth and profitability of all types and sizes of business. Previously, IP could be largely controlled in production. With 3D printing, however, this is not the case. Through the proliferation of handheld 3D scanners and torrent networks, anyone can create physical replicas of an array of items and violate patents, copyrights and trademarks along the way. It’s a situation similar to the challenges faced by the music industry with the advent of peer-to-peer networks like Napster: anyone can pirate design files, unintentionally or otherwise, and now they can turn those files into tangible objects without owning the IP.


IP Theft



Opportunities for Licensing and IP in 3D Printing

The trick to moving forward successfully with 3D printing is to look at this as an opportunity to lead the business world into a new age of technology. It’s not simply a challenge to traditional business and manufacturing, but also an opportunity for new income and content creations channels.


Old Products Get a New Life

Companies can benefit from 3D printing by making their existing library of assets 3D printable. Many manufactured products already have CAD files for their designs, many of which are already 3D printable. Others require some minimal adjustments to be made 3D printable. Once the files are prepared, there are several ways for companies to benefit.

Companies can sell printed products to be distributed to consumers or sell the rights to 3D printable designs through new platforms, like Pinshape. These types of sales can prove to be very lucrative.




For example, consider a toy company that manufactures figurines. The company has numerous product lines, some of which are no longer in production. The company can now easily reactivate their entire inventory of discontinued products by selling professionally 3D printed versions of the same items on a sale-by-sale basis. Overhead costs on large batches of units with uncertain demand and storage costs associated with the unsold merchandise are no longer applicable thanks to 3D printing. The only sunk cost is the minimal one of creating the file for print. This can unlock the long tail markets – markets that traditional manufacturing can’t service profitably.


Leave the Manufacturing To Others

Next, let’s say that the toy company wanted to cut out the hassle of printing and shipping the items all together. No problem! With 3D printing, the company can grant customers access to print versions at home on their own 3D printers. Customers could be part of the creation process for their new products – leading to the potential of an added benefit: The IKEA Effect. This effect states that customers feel an extra attachment to the items that they have played a role in creating.

So how could this be implemented? First, the design files could be sold for profit or given away for free to customers to use at will.

Second, companies can employ a streaming system to sell their files on a pay-per-print basis. Streaming, sends a special copy of the design file directly to the 3D printer rather than to the customer and then monitors for print success. This ensures that the customer receives the item but limits the number of prints to one.

With either option, the customer gets the print they want, and the company gets item revenue without any production cost.


Variation and Customization

If simply offering up old products is not an appealing option for your company, or if you’re looking for ways to expand on the reusability of past designs, the next step would be the modification of those existing products to create something different and new. With no switch over time for a factory, no minimum order quantities and no need for expensive and intricate tooling, companies can use 3D printing to create one-off products just as easily as creating numerous copies of the same design.




React Instantly To Popular Trends

Without the restrictions of the traditional manufacturing process, there are a number of creative ways to generate more revenue from your IP. See a lucrative web fad that you would like to incorporate into one of your products quickly? Done. 3D printing will let you go from conceptualization to finished product within hours with no upfront investment in production and distribution.


Embrace Fan Art

Another avenue for businesses to explore is using popularity of a brand to fuel creation of new spins on existing IP. By leveraging their preexisting interest in the product, a company can pick a small group of talented designers and get fresh takes on traditional products, right from the fans themselves.

This practice injects new life into old products and is very shareable in user communities and the press. A perfect example of this is the recent choice, by Hasbro, to allow a group of 3D designers to create new versions of My Little Ponies figures, to be sold as 3D printed products. Hasbro still has final say over the way their IP is depicted and benefits from crowdsourced ideas.


Anything Can Be Customized

One of the most intriguing benefits of 3D printing is individual user customization. The nature of 3D printing makes it possible for consumers to modify a product to fit their specific needs. For example, they can print their specific video game avatar or add a family member’s face to a superhero figurine.

The level of customization can be restricted (or not), and with 3D printing, the sky’s the limit. This level of customization can access a consumer base that was previously disinterested in your basic product offerings.


New Product Sources

3D printing doesn’t have to be limited to the modification of existing IP. Evolving 3D tools and skilled users makes crowdsourcing of ideas a great way to access new types of products on a by-the-fans, for-the-fans basis.


How Does Crowdsourcing for 3D Prints Work?

Crowdsourcing a 3D printed item is simple for companies. All that a company has to do is:
1.Suggest a theme (as vague or specific as needed).
2.Have designers submit design files in exchange for some type of prize.





For example, a video game company could crowdsource their next video game character to be both a virtual and tangible 3D printable character. This type of submission is easily and quickly prototyped, meaning changes to the design can be easily implemented. It’s a win for both consumers and your business alike.


Get Started With 3D Printing Today

The move into 3D printing as part of a business’ product strategy is easy to do, and opens countless opportunities. Whether you plan to bring legacy products back to the market, create timely or customized versions or develop entirely new ideas; 3D printing has you covered in ways that traditional manufacturing never did.

Want help getting into 3D printing? Get in touch with the Pinshape Team today!


Photos source:

Mario 1

Mario 2

Mario 3



My Little Ponies



Pinshape is a 3D printing community and marketplace where makers from all over the world can find and share their next great 3D print and help each other get the best results from their 3D printers.