IT research and advisory company Gartner recently released a report on 3D printing called "Predicts 2014: 3D Printing at the Inflection Point." In it, the company predicts the loss of at least $100 billion annually in intellectual property worldwide by 2018 as a direct result of 3D printing.
"The very factors that foster innovation - crowdsourcing, [research and development] pooling and funding of startups - coupled with shorter product life cycles, provide a fertile ground for intellectual property theft using 3D printers," Peter Basiliere, research director at Gartner, said. "The plummeting costs of 3D printers, scanners and modeling technology, combined with improving capabilities, makes the technology for IP theft more accessible to would-be criminals."
The report also points out that 3D "bioprinting," which is the medical application of 3D printing to produce living tissues, is advancing quickly. A small working kidney was recently made in China using a biomaterial 3D printer, according to the report, and a working windpipe was built in the U.S. Bioprinting raises ethical questions, but may cause legal ones as well.
"While U.S. patent law does not allow human organisms to be patented, does that protection extend to individual organs?" the report asks.