Additive manufacturing industry analyst SmarTech Publishing recently published its latest report, which delves into the topic of patents in metal 3D printing. The new study, entitled “3D Printed Metals: A Patent Landscape Analysis — 2018,” presents a wealth of information about metal AM patents including a qualitative analysis and a database of nearly 2,300 patents for metal 3D printing technologies.
The recently published study is the first in a series of reports that will focus specifically on patents in the additive manufacturing field. SmarTech Publishing, which has extensively analyzed and studied several aspects of the 3D printing industry, said that this specific report is based on extensive research into U.S. and international metal AM patents issued over a 20-year rolling period, as well as patent applications published until June 2018.
The scope of the report seems quite broad, as SmarTech specifies that it took into account patents that were associated with either metal 3D printing techniques and processes for making printable metals. As stated above, the new report is split into two main segments: a comprehensive patent database and a “visually illustrative presentation of the data” paired with a granular analysis by the company’s in-house IP specialist.
A glimpse at the report’s findings
SmarTech gives a glimpse into what readers will find in the report’s analysis, saying that it will include top assignees, top inventors, top filing countries as well as information on which companies are using which metals for 3D printing, patent coverage for specific metals, patent survival rates and expiring patens.
In a press release about the metal AM patent report, the industry analyst also offers some more detailed insight through a short sample of the report’s content. For instance, the report finds that GE and HC Starck have the “broadest 3D printed metals patent coverage,” and that GE has more patents surrounding nickel and titanium while Starck has focused more on tantalum and niobium.
Japanese multinational Hitachi holds the third broadest range of metal AM patents, while American chemicals company Cabot and aerospace and defense company Hamilton Sundstrand come in at fourth and fifth.
Interestingly, SmarTech finds that “EOS and GE have taken strong patent positions which will provide them with advantages over other metal machine companies such as 3D Systems which has lower patent coverage than SmarTech would have expected.”
In terms of processes, the study suggests that metals for powder bed fusion have the widest coverage in the patent database, and that within that category, EOS has the broadest coverage (with patens for aluminum, steel, tungsten and noble metals). Hamilton Sundstrand—a company that has largely fallen outside of our radar—has the second broadest coverage.
The report also shows that about 70% of the patent references are for metal powders for use in Powder Bed Fusion and Binder Jetting processes. Metals for Material Extrusion, Material Jetting and Directed Energy Deposition, however, have far fewer patents, which SmarTech suggests could be a “gap that firms could look to exploit.”
In addition to the companies listed in the study, SmarTech also found that universities and other research institutions held a significant number of patents in the metal AM sphere. These patents, unlike those held by companies, are more often licensed to companies (as the research institutions do not make or sell products themselves). Licensing these patents, the study shows, can often lead to large annual revenues for companies.
The last peek given into the AM patent report by SmarTech has to go with patent litigation—in other words, when a patent-holding company sues another for infringement. Interestingly, though we’ve seen a high profile case of patent litigation play out between Desktop Metal and Markforged over the past several months (recently resolved), patent litigation within metal AM is still fairly minimal.
Having said that, SmarTech expects that situation to change as metal 3D printing continues to grow and as companies try to consolidate their market positions and “invalidate existing patents.” The industry analyst company adds that it also expects to see more licensing relationships in the future.
The full “3D Printed Metals: A Patent Landscape Analysis — 2018” report can be ordered via SmarTech Publishing’s website.