In Part 1 of this series, we addressed the impact of 3D printing on companies that mold their marks directly into their goods. Now, in Part 2, we will evaluate potential benefits and pitfalls that businesses may encounter when applying a mark to products at a later stage in manufacturing (e.g., via sticker or ink-printing).

Many companies decide not to mold or 3D print their marks directly into their product. Such a decision may be based on a cost analysis, or on the desire to remain agile in the marketplace. As discussed previously, such costs may fall drastically while agility will greatly improve as 3D printing becomes more widespread. Even so, many companies are simply unable to mold or 3D print their marks directly into their products. The product may be too small to directly bear a trademark at all, or may not have an externally visible surface to serve as a suitable location to display a mark.

This leaves your company with a few options. If it simply is not feasible to put a mark directly on your product, you can rely instead on product packaging to display your mark. If you have made an affirmative decision not to integrate your mark into your product, you can always slap on a sticker bearing your mark, or ink-print your mark directly onto your product.

Ink-printing your marks may actually help you to avoid some of the drawbacks that arise from integrally molding or 3D printing your marks into your products. The various ink-printing options largely obviate the risk that a counterfeiter will scan and then 3D print your product bearing your mark. The graphics on product packaging, stickers, and from direct ink-printing will not be captured by most 3D scans … at least for now. Most 3D scanners look to capture structure and form, not graphics. A counterfeiter would have to go through the trouble of replicating not only your product, but also the graphics/artwork/marks that you added. As 3D printing becomes more ubiquitous and more heavily relied upon, this extra step may actually become more of a hurdle for counterfeiters than in the past.

“But wait a second!” you might be saying to yourself. “Couldn’t a counterfeiter use a regular scanner to capture your graphics/artwork/marks, and then simply re-print those as well?” Well, yes. “And,” you might say, “isn’t this just the same situation we’re already in right now when dealing with counterfeiters?” Absolutely. If you are not going to use a 3D printer to print your mark directly into your goods, then you are going to have to rely on the existing tried-and-true ink-printing techniques for applying marks to your products. Therefore, you are going to run into the same old problems. Of course, counterfeiters may come to rely more heavily on 3D scanners and printers in the coming years, and laziness may trump the desire to perfectly counterfeit your product.

In the end, the decision to ink-print your mark onto a sticker or the product itself, or to mold or 3D print your mark integrally with your product, will be a complex decision. Frankly, the possibility of counterfeiting may be fairly far down on your list of considerations. Still, 3D printing is not going away, so we encourage you to think about IP as we move forward.

Be sure to read Part 3 of the series for a discussion on trademark enforcement in 3D printing. For additional information, please contact Dan Cohn or Joe Orlet.