Gartner, Inc. touts itself as “the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company.” Accordingly, intellectual property lawyers may want to pay attention to Gartner’s claims that the “escalation of 3D printing capabilities will change retail models and threaten intellectual property.” Gartner’s January 2014 report contains the following predictions:

  • 3D printing will result in the loss of more than $100 billion per year in global IP revenue by 2018.
  • At least seven of the world’s top 10 multichannel retailers will be using 3D printing technology to generate custom stock orders by 2018.
  • The rapid advancement of 3D printing for the production of living tissue and organs (“bioprinting”) will foster major ethical debates.
  • There will be an explosion in demand for 3D technology to meet medical needs in underserved emerging markets (i.e. 3D printed prosthetic limbs.)

Several companies have already adopted an “if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em” mentality. For example, Hasbro partnered with 3D printing pioneer Shapeways to make its popular “My Little Pony” brand available to fans online via 3D printing. Chocolate giant Hershey is developing a licensed 3D printer concept for confections. Nike utilizes 3D printing technology to produce high performance sport cleats. It seems inevitable such cleats will soon be available for home production — swoosh and all — via licensed “blueprints.”

Are predictions of the demise of IP due to 3D printing greatly exaggerated? (See VCR and Napster). Or, will 3D printing be the next “internet” – spawning innovation and whole new industries? Stay tuned.