All in intellectual property

The fuzziness of software patents’ boundaries has already turned the ICT industry into one colossal turf war. The expanding reach of IP has introduced more and more possibilities for opportunistic litigation (suing to make a buck). In the US, two-thirds of all patent law suits are currently over software, with 2015 seeing more patent lawsuits filed than any other year before. Of the high-tech cases, more than 88% involved non-practicing entities (NPEs). These include two charmlessly evolving species who’s entire business model is lawsuits—patent trolls and sample trolls. These are corporations that don’t actually create anything, they simply acquire a library of intellectual property rights and then litigate to earn profits (and because legal expenses are millions of dollars, their targets usually highly motivated to settle out of court). And the patent trolls are most common back in the troubled realm of software. The estimated wealth loss in the US alone is $500,000,000,000 (that’s a lot of zeros).

While patent laws protect design concepts in the traditional manufacturing model, additive manufacturing is not so clear-cut. The legal question becomes, "Who really owns the design of a part that is printed?".  And regarding counterfeiting of parts, the technology of additive manufacturing makes reverse engineering an unnecessary step, thereby easing the way for counterfeiters to do their work quickly and more efficiently.  Add to that the very real concern about the structural integrity of objects produced by additive manufacturing methods, and you can see that counterfeit parts produced in this way may result in catastrophic failure, and, depending on the use of the object, even potentially loss of life.