Interview: New study shows 3D printing is second fastest growing technology of 2017

Patent Services has published a new report showing the
enterprises, technologies and countries with the most patents.
For 2017, over 320,000 patents were granted – an increase of
5.2% on the previous year and a new record.

I caught up with Larry Cady, senior analyst, IFI CLAIMS
Patent Services, to learn more about trends in 3D printing

The 3D printing industry is, “Vibrant and growing fast”
Cady tells me. “We note that additive manufacturing is being
heavily used at companies like
Boeing and General Electric
. Combined with some new
advanced materials, it may have a big impact on manufacturing,”
he adds.

Oxford Performance Materials are working with Boeing on the Starliner.Oxford Performance
Materials are working with Boeing on the Starliner.

The IFI Claims report shows that the 5 year growth rate
for published patent applications in the Patent Classification
B33Y Additive Manufacturing grew at a compound annual rate of
35% from 2013 to 2017.

The only technology with a higher 5 year growth rate was
e-Cigarettes at 45%. Machine Learning took third place at 34%,
Autonomous Vehicles had a 27% CAGR, Moulding Materials 27%,
Hybrid Vehicles 26%, Aerial Drones also 26% and Food at 24% was
the 8th fastest growing technology by patent.

Total US Utility Grants 2008 to 2017. Image via IFI CLAIMSTotal US Utility Grants
2008 to 2017. Image via IFI CLAIMS

General Electric received the most 3D printing patents in

The report uses 70 sources of data and looked at the
320,003 Utility Grant patents issued by the USPTO. US
enterprises were the recipients of 46% of the patents, 31% went
to Asian companies and 15% to European business.

While Chinese companies received only 3.5% of the 2017 US
Grants, this is a 28% increase on the prior year. “Among
countries receiving US patents, the ranking is (1) US, (2)
Japan, (3) Korea, (4) Germany, (5) China,” says Cady, “China
has replaced Taiwan, which was number 5 in 2016.”

The enterprises with the greatest number of 3D Printing
and additive manufacturing 2017 published patents applications
for 2017 are listed in the report as

General Electric
Xerox 78
Desktop Metal
Hewlett-Packard Development
Ricoh Co 45

Some of the patents included in this data are

additive manufacturing acoustic monitoring processes from
separable supports from Desktop
Rocket Crafters 3D printed rocket fuel
and patents for Stratasys subsidiary

Evolve Additive’s new 3D printing

Interestingly, of the top 7 companies named as most
active in 3D printing patents, Desktop Metal and Stratasys are
the only “pure” 3D printing enterprises.

Desktop Metal 3D printed parts can virtually be removed by hand thanks to its support ink system. Photo via Desktop MetalDesktop Metal 3D
printed parts removed by hand thanks to its support ink system.
Photo via Desktop Metal

I asked Larry Cady from IFI CLAIMS Patent Services about
 the relationship between patents and innovation. “If you
look at the companies with the most patents you do see some of
the world’s great innovators. Certainly there is a relationship
but obviously not every patent represents an innovation. Many
are quite mundane and don’t even have a clear application,”
Cady explained.

Indeed, more patents does not always indicate more
innovation – or the relentless march of progress. A report from
the US Congressional Budget Office lists “low-quality patents”
patent litigation and an increasing number of patent trolls as
ways the US patent system can harm innovation. I interviewed
several legal experts in 3D printing for this article looking
3D printing, patents and innovation

A new wave of 3D printing products

That said, should the 3D printing industry expect the 35%
CAGR to translate into a wave of new products anytime soon?
“Most patents take 2-3 years from application to grant and from
there it depends— some may take years to be applied to a
product,” explains Cady.

“Pendency refers to the length of time between a patent
filing and its issue as a patent grant.” In the US mean patent
pendency is 3.20 years, the number for China is 3.09.

Korea has the lowest mean patent pendency at 2.78
and the longest time to grant is seen at
the European Patent Office with 5.87 years.

Cady adds, “Of course, a company can start using an
innovation as soon as they invent it and they don’t have to
wait for a patent grant. However, if they want patent
protection in a specific market (like the US), then they need
to let the patent grant.”

“Pendency is easy to measure, but the time between
invention and product is not something we can estimate.
 It certainly depends on the industry and the company.
 In 3D Printing, it may be fairly short.”

I asked the senior analyst if the 2017 data revealed any
surprises – 3D printing related, or otherwise. Cady tells me
there was a, “Significant drop this year from ever strong
Japanese companies. Canon, Sony, Brother, Sharp, Ricoh, and
Toshiba all saw dips in patents and/or rank.”

Elsewhere there was, “A big comeback, however, for
automakers, led by Toyota and Ford.” This increase was driven
by activity in self-driving cars, but also in advanced
manufacturing. Cady says that, “Facebook enters Top 50 on their
strength in Machine Learning. The rise of Chinese companies
like BOE Technology Group and Shenzhen China Star.”

More information about the 2017
Patent Trends and Insights from IFI CLAIMS Patent
is available online.

Nominations for the second annual 3D Printing Industry
Awards are now open.

Make your selections now.

For more analysis and insight into the additive
manufacturing sector,
to our free 3D Printing Industry
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Featured image shows a drawing from Scott Crump’s
patent US5121329-1.

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