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Protecting and Monetizing Intellectual Property in Additive Manufacturing

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From its origins in rapid prototyping, additive manufacturing has become a viable industrial technology for producing individual parts, custom products, or even entire small-batch production runs. Complex and unwieldy supply chains can be eliminated, the carbon footprint of the entire manufacturing process reduced, and products made on demand without difficult or costly tooling and engineering. Additive manufacturing has opened the door for innovative business models with a far faster time-to-market.

Additive Manufacturing in Practice

On its route from an original idea to a finished object that you can touch, many people and companies will have contributed to the additive manufacturing process. It all begins with the design of a digital object that represents or contains the intellectual property of its maker. In many cases, that object will be only one part of a finished product assembled by another agent in that process: an integrator or, potentially, vendor. In many cases, the actual 3D printing will be handled by a local service provider to save costs. At each step in this process, intellectual property needs to be protected against theft and piracy, but still be available for legitimate agents to use, process, and reprocess.

Processing and Printing Licenses, courtesy of CodeMeter

The CodeMeter technology by Wibu-Systems uses sophisticated cryptographic processes to encrypt digital IP and create licenses for the protected IP to be used, safely and securely, anytime and anywhere, in easy integration with existing process chains.

The system is built around a marketplace or e-store on which registered customers could buy e.g. spare parts. This store can be seamlessly integrated with established e-commerce systems to automate the buying and ordering process as completely as possible. Instead of physical products shipped by expensive and wasteful logistics, the buyer now receives the object design in the form of an encrypted file.

The protected file is accompanied by a specific pre-processing license to prepare the 3D printing process. Another printing license specific to each other then determines how many physical copies the client is allowed to create from the design he has purchased. The process is illustrated here.

CodeMeter represents a crucial link in the process chain, taking over protection and license management for all components involved. The CodeMeter encryption technology for the 3D designs and print jobs is available in the form of libraries for many target platforms and developer languages that the makers of preprocessing and 3D printing software can use to integrate IP protection in 3D printing with little effort. The cryptographic keys necessary for the process can be stored, depending on the operating conditions and the desired level of protection, on CmDongles, software containers (CmActLicenses), or the CmCloud.

CodeMeter License Central makes it easy to prepare and distribute the preprocessing and printing licenses, with webservice interfaces again available for easier integration in existing e-commerce or CRM landscapes. Ideally, the licenses are delivered by simple online activation, but file transfer solutions are available for target systems or 3D printers without direct online connectivity.

The encrypted 3D printing files can only be accessed if the preprocessing licenses are available on the workstation, and a printer could create only as many copies of the item as the printing license allows. To guarantee that, the printing license not only includes the necessary cryptographic keys, but also a tamperproof unit counter to keep track of how many items have actually been printed.