United States: Anti-Copying Technology For 3D Printing: A Survey

In tacit recognition that patents and copyrights may be impotent, or that IP enforcement may be cost-prohibitive, in the face of widespread 3D printing "away from control" (which means making products without anyone knowing about it or being about to control it), many companies and researchers are developing technologies to attempt to prevent unauthorized 3D printed copying, or to enable 3D printed products to be identified as genuine.

Anti-Copying Efforts

Many companies and researchers are developing technology to attempt to prevent unauthorized 3D printing. One approach is to manage the entire pipeline of the 3D printing process from the initial design phase to manufacturing. San Francisco-based Identify3D has developed a suite of software tools designed to secure the 3D design-to-manufacturing process end-to-end. Identify3D's "Protect" software encrypts designs along with a fixed manufacturing policy that gives a design owner the ability to allow a fixed number of builds on particular hardware with a defined expiration date. This manufacturing policy travels with the design and limits its usability. Once the design is encrypted with its manufacturing limitations, the design owner can specify whether to limit the distribution channel of the design. For example, digital blueprints can be limited to a secure, cloud-based system, or more freely distributed as stand-alone encrypted digital blueprints. Identify3D also has a "Manage" software package for overseeing the use of the digital blueprints' rights and an "Enforce" package that verifies, decrypts the digital blueprint, and provides build instructions to the end user. Identify3D is collaborating on this system with 3D printer makers Renishaw and SLM Solutions.

Boeing is using a similar platform, provided by Assembrix, to secure its digital thread for 3D printed parts.

Danish company REAL ID is working to create an analog to the DRM system used in the digital music realm, but for 3D printing parts and products. Using this system, the design owner encrypts the digital blueprint and the end-user's system must "phone home" to an encryption server to verify rights before the 3D printer is allowed to print.

In a less-restrictive alternative, online digital blueprint-sharing platform Treatstock has proposed enabling design owners to embed a watermark in digital blueprints that can be digitally verified by users who upload designs.

In 2015 Authentise released 3DIAX, a platform for storing, modifying, and 3D printing files where the portal restricts access on a pay-per use basis.

Lithuania's CGTrader has developed an online marketplace for 3D printable digital blueprints where the user can download a non-printable version of the design to review and validate before paying for the fully printable version. CGTrader hopes this two-phase model will minimize post-payment returns. Without such an approach, any platform that allows returns may have difficulty confirming that the user has destroyed the 3D printed object.

In Germany, a consortium of companies known as the Secure Additive Manufacturing Platform (SAMPL) is working to implement blockchain-based protection for 3D printable digital blueprints. Canadian company Kabuni also intends to blockchain-enable 3D printers, to secure the digital thread and prevent unauthorized 3D printing. Link3D also plans to use blockchain to prevent unauthorized 3D printing. The U.S. Navy is also investigating the use of blockchain technology to authenticate and control the 3D printing design and manufacture process.

Scanning and Reverse Engineering

An Achilles Heel of anti-copying technologies is high-resolution 3D scanning. Companies like Shining 3D have developed such scanners, which can be used to create reverse-engineered digital blueprints for physical parts. Disney hopes to foil such 3D scanners by using anti-scanning materials on the head or face of its cartoon figurines. The hope is that when the figures are scanned, the scanner will be unable to pick up critical details, rendering the scans useless. Industry-watchers have pointed out that the anti-reflective coating might be easily defeated by first spraying the figurines with a light coat of dulling spray paint.

Sound could also be the downfall of anti-copying solutions. A research team at the University of California Irvine used a smartphone to record the operation of a material extrusion printer as it printed a part. By reverse engineering the recorded sounds, the team recreated the part with almost 90% accuracy.

Authentication Efforts

Other companies and researchers are developing technology to attempt to assure that 3D printed parts and products are authorized copies. For example, Rize Inc. has introduced a system for ink jetting voxel-level QR codes onto 3D printed parts, such that a user could scan an embedded QR code to reveal and verify the part's provenance.

Some companies are embedding supposedly unscannable physical or chemical signatures to verify 3D printed parts' provenance. For example, Karlsruher Instiut Fur Technologie (KIT) and Zeiss have suggested embedding tiny microstructures to foil 3D printed counterfeits. Such microstructures are on the order of 100 microns and must be read by a machine because they are not visible to the naked eye.

Germany's Nanoscribe has developed a "multi-level diffractive optical element" (DOE), essentially a nano-scale light prism that refracts laser light into a desired pattern, such as a logo or serial number. Nanoscribe's DOE can be printed with a maskless 3D printing process more quickly than the traditional method of manufacturing masks to create a DOE.

UK-based Sofmat developed a 3D printable barcode with a 0.4-micron feature size that is printable directly on to certain drugs to allow for later authentication.

InfraTrac adds taggants by directed energy deposition to leave a chemical fingerprint on a 3D printed part or product. InfraTrac has shown that on titanium samples, x-ray fluorescence can clearly reveal a printed tag on a physical part that is invisible to the naked eye or a 3D scanner.

Quantum Materials Corporation has acquired technology from a lab at Virginia Tech that will enable chemical signatures 3D printed as embedded quantum dots.

In his book, 3D Printing Will Rock the World, co-author John Hornick suggests using botanical DNA inks produced by Applied DNA Sciences to mark parts as genuine, as does the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency.

Another approach to ensuring that parts are genuine is to embed design flaws that result from printing a digital blueprint without authorization. Researchers at NYU embedded design elements into a digital blueprint that rendered a 3D printed part flawed unless the part was 3D printed using precise printing parameters, which would not be known to would-be digital blueprint thieves.


Companies and researchers are developing unique approaches that strive to strike a balance between design owners' rights to control their IP, users' confidence in the provenance of a 3D printable digital blueprint or 3D printed part, and everyone's ease of use and access to 3D printing. It remains to be seen what approach will succeed, if any. In the end, the market and particular use-cases will decide which method best strikes this balance. The best solution may incorporate elements from multiple models.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Events from this Firm
14 Mar 2019, Conference, Washington, DC, United States

Finnegan is a Table sponsor of the third annual PTAB Bar Association Conference.

26 Mar 2019, Other, Frankfurt, Germany

Finnegan is a Gold sponsor of the Automotive Legal & IP World Summit, hosted by Encom Global. Finnegan partner Lionel Lavenue will join the panel discussion “Identifying Opportunities to Patent Inventions Arising from Digital and Connected Technologies."

26 Mar 2019, Other, Washington, DC, United States

Finnegan is a Gold sponsor of the Automotive Legal & IP World Summit, hosted by Encom Global.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Sign Up
Gain free access to lawyers expertise from more than 250 countries.
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Newsalert
Select Topics
Select Regions
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions