At the Edge of a Technological Boom - IPRs associated with 3D printing in India

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A recent article published in the Times of India (TOI) titled “How a 3D printed home can get built faster and cheaper“ by Sindhu Hariharan provides insightful viewpoints on how sound and precise Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) management in 3D printing technology can foster the overall growth and development in its different intended applications. 3D printing possesses a whole range of applications right from in the Building and Construction industry, Food industry, IT industry, Pharmaceutical industry, till Medical and Healthcare industry.

Fig. Tvasta Manufacturing Solutions (a start-up by alumni of IIT Madras) constructed ‘India’s first’ 3D printed’ house

While the concept of and procedure to be used in 3D-printing was first described by Murray Leinster in 1945, it was Johannes F Gottwald whose patented invention of the Liquid Metal Recorder (Patent Number US3596285A) was the first patent describing 3D printing. Fast-forward to the present times, the global market for 3D printing products and services was valued at around 12.6 billion U.S. dollars in 2020. Additionally, the industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of some 17 percent between 2020 and 2023 globally. A rapidly growing and developing technological advancement of such a calibre warrants for a strong, trustworthy regime of Intellectual Property protection across different regimes around the world. With the COVID-19 pandemic opening an unthinkable miseries of pandora’s boxes, especially with respect to the Indian economy, ironically a perfect opportunity lies ahead in terms of exploring this market place domain. Following are the relevant IPRs and the current loopholes (and/or shortcomings) with respect to 3D-printing in India.


As is the case with most of the budding technological advancements, patents prove attractive to the 3D printing industry. Both the 3D printing machines and the processes that these printers carry out can be protected by patents vis-à-vis the Indian Patents Act, 1970. A typical 3D printer may be covered by hundreds of patents, including separate patents for its hardware elements and the associated software as well (with the caveat that it is in line with the Computer-Related Inventions Rules, 2017).

There are several published patent applications indicating 3D-printing apparatus or a process or its usage. Patent No. 201941036026 describes a 3D printer that prints the user required 3-D shape in various plastic materials, and reinforced filaments. Another Patent No. 201911046028 describes an automatic system to level the print bed of a 3D printer.

Fig. Boeing has patented a futuristic 3D printing technology that allows objects to be printed mid-air

However, there a few potential issues to be deliberated upon for patenting 3D-printers and its processes. It is debated that attempts to use and enforce IPRs relating to 3D printing in medical and health applications in India may be curtailed by the imperatives of the Indian Constitution’s fundamental rights of protection of the right to life and need for access to medicines and other medical resources in order to facilitate the diffusion of 3D printing technology in India. Patent data shows that 55% of the total patent publications in 3d bioprinting are pending patent applications. Upon that 3D printing facilitates easier infringement of patents since CAD files containing patents can be printed at multiple locations under limited visibility of the patent holder.


The Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) file which is quintessential to creating prototypes using the 3D printer and the source code can be protected as literary works under copyright laws. Such copyrighted matter could even be used to prevent 3D reproduction of the images in the file.

Fig. CAD File format for a 3D model to be printed

However, there are a few issues in copyrighting CADs. The main challenge is that the CAD files can be unauthorisedly transmitted over the Internet. Also, it is often debated that if the CAD files satisfy the criteria of originality under the Copyrights Law.


Design rights could be used to protect the non-functional designs made using a 3D Printer. However, in case of Microfibers Inc. vs Girdhar & Co. & Anr., the Delhi High Court has clarified that for printing an object using a personal 3D Printer, the CAD files used would not fit under the definition of designs as per the Designs Act, 2000 as no large scale application is involved.


Start-ups and Companies can obtain trademark protection for their 3D-printing apparatus/brand under the Indian Trademark Act, 1999. 3D marks can now be trademarked in India as well as 3D shape marks. However, if a CAD file contains a digital version of a trademark of a person, unauthorised use of any such mark may constitute infringement or passing off if it occurs in the course of trade.

Fig. 3D printing companies in India

Although still in its nascent stage, the Indian 3D printing industry offers huge prospects for economic growth and advancements in the coming years. The Indian 3D Printing Industry holds immense potential to become a $1 billion industry from its current value of around $100 million. However, it can only be achieved through a robust IPR protection regime and IP awareness.