Patent Protection for Medical 3D Printing & Bioprinting Technologies

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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:

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Roger Kuan is the US head of Norton Rose Fulbright’s digital health and precision medicine practice and counsels companies that are uniquely positioned in the convergence of the life/medical sciences and technology industries on how to successfully navigate the complexities of the intellectual property (IP), data rights and regulatory challenges they encounter.Roger has extensive experience in IP strategy and portfolio management (utility/design patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade dress), data rights strategy, licensing and technology transactions, freedom-to-operate clearances, enforcement, monetization, IP due diligence and dispute resolution. His practice is focused in the life sciences sector (e.g., research tools, analytical instrumentation/software, digital therapeutics, medical devices, diagnostics, biomanufacturing equipment, etc.) with an emphasis in emerging technologies such as 3D Bioprinting, Precision Medicine (e.g., AI/ML, computational genomics/bioinformatics, companion diagnostics, etc.), and Digital Health (e.g., mobile apps, clinical decision support, software, digital therapeutics, AI/ML Imaging Diagnostics, etc.).

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