Patent Protection for Medical 3D Printing & Bioprinting Technologies

Innovation Sensing for 3D Printing/Bioprinting

3D printing began in the 1980s as a product design tool for making rapid prototypes but has quickly become an affordable and accessible technology for precision manufacture of products.  More recently, 3D printing techniques were adapted to fabricate metal or polymer-based implants and biomedical parts (bioprinting) that imitate natural tissue characteristics.  These exciting new applications for 3D printing offer ample opportunities for obtaining patent rights over novel innovations that arise, providing that they are properly identified through innovation sensing. 

When looking for (sensing) novel innovations that are good candidates for patent protection, one should look at the entirety of the 3D printing workflow from the materials that are used, to the printing methods, to the printing systems/software and the printed article itself.  

Materials

Look for innovation in the specific material types/blends that impart the desired properties/characteristics in the finished printed product.  So for example, if the desired characteristic were stiffness in the article, you would look to put protection around specific material blends (e.g., powders, inks, etc.) that would result in a printed article that has the desired degree of stiffness.  It’s important to note, that even though the basic components of the material blends are well known, you may still be able to obtain a patent around the specific ratios of the material blends if you can show that they impart the desired characteristic in the resulting printed article. 

Printing Methods

Look for innovation in the specific printing operational steps or printing conditions that enable you to print the article with the desired properties/characteristics.  For example, if there are specific operational conditions that allow better control of the curing of a bioink so that you can print articles with precise porosity or pores with unique geometries; that can be a basis for novelty for you to obtain a patent even though the base manufacturing method is well known.   

Systems and Software

Look for innovation in the printing system hardware or software enabling new printing applications, increased print accuracy/precision/throughput, printing automation, etc.  For example, new laser optics can allow finer (narrower) lines to be iteratively melted/sintered onto a layer of metal powder allowing for more precisely formed unit cells on the surface of a metal implant.

Printed Article

Look for innovation in the features of the printed article that can only be formed using 3D printing techniques.  For example, features on a 3D printed metal implant that can only exist using 3D printing techniques because traditional metal stamping or other metal fabrication techniques cannot be used to form the desired feature or article.    

About the Author:

Roger Kuan

Roger Kuan is a partner with McDermott Will & Emery and he focuses his practice on intellectual property (IP) procurement/portfolio management, IP transactions and strategic IP counseling for life sciences clients (e.g., research tools, analytical instrumentation/software, medical devices, diagnostics, biomanufacturing systems, etc.) with a focus on emerging technologies such as digital health (e.g., mobile apps, clinical decision support software, digital therapeutics, AI/ML imaging diagnostics, etc.), personalized medicine (e.g., genomic sequencing platforms, AI/ML computational genomics/bioinformatics, molecular diagnostics, etc.) and 3D printing/bioprinting. He has extensive experience in intellectual property strategy and management, preparation and prosecution (utility/design patents, trademarks, and trade dress), counseling and litigation, licensing and technology transactions, freedom-to-operate clearances, monetization, IP due diligence, IP risk recognition and mitigation, and dispute resolution. He served as Director IP Counsel at a multinational biotechnology company, where he managed a team to support the worldwide IP needs of the company’s life sciences tools, bioproduction/biomanufacturing, molecular diagnostics, and nucleic acid sequencing system/software platforms. Prior to finishing his law degree, Roger worked in the life sciences industry for several Fortune 500 pharmaceutical, medical device, and chemical companies. He has held professional positions in the R&D, sales, engineering, and regulatory affairs organizations. He will be speaking at our upcoming SF event at McDermott’s SF Office.

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