And the next technological game changer is…
A technology known as 3D printing. Although 3D printing has been around for around 3 decades the real technological improvements have appeared in the last 5 years.
In simple terms 3D printing technology allows you to image and reverse engineer products in 3 dimensions in much the same way as machines have imaged and reproduced facsimile copies of 2 dimensional items for some time. As you can imagine, for many manufacturers this presents the same opportunities that the printing press did for mass printing and distribution of the printed word in Britain in 1476…in other words it is revolutionary!
The latest advances means that a wide variety of materials can be used in the printing process including metals and resins, although polymers and plastics remain the usual materials of choice. But in the same way as mechanical printing brought down the cost of printed matter, 3D printing will rapidly diminish the costs of prototyping and manufacturing goods.
So what will this mean in practice?
Well it means that goods can be rapidly made almost on demand, thereby drastically reducing lead times and transport costs. So no longer will companies have to wait for third parties to make key components and ship them – they’ll simply have their own 3D printer on site and CAD files – and manufacture as many as they need.
It will also mean that prototypes can be modelled and designed on screen and made within days of conception. If you think that is fanciful, then consider this…
Doctors are already scanning and reproducing prosthetic body parts such as pieces of skull, hands, legs and noses!
The military are producing 3D printed parts for RAF Tornados fighter aircraft. Nike and Adidas are experimenting with 3D printed trainers and a Chinese builder has already made 3D printed houses!
As with any new technology however, creators of IP will have to carefully guard their assets as the same technology that makes it easy to use lawfully, makes it of great ease to use for illegal purposes too. In other words in the wrong hands the technology as it stands will be able to reverse engineer lots of items without paying the rights owners.
If not properly policed, owners of patented technology registered and unregistered designs will find their products copied and sold.
And of course the cost of having such technology is coming down too, making it widely available. It is only a matter of time before carefully and expensively crafted CAD files are illegally stolen and copied and either placed on the internet for use by the unscrupulous or taken and used by disgruntled employees.
So now it is going to be more important than ever to control both the supply chain but also the authenticity and origin of products.
Perhaps now is the time for a trade body to get involved in the protection of unauthorised copied products?
If you’d like to discuss this or similar issues of copying, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!