With such an influx of news on 3D printing every day, it can seem as if the entire world is embracing the technology. However, according to the United Nations, most of the work being done in the field has been limited to a handful of countries. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) reported in the 2015 World Intellectual Property Report that of all the patents filed in the emerging fields of 3D printing, robotics and nanotechnology since 1995, fully 75 percent were filed by Japan, the United States, Germany, France, Britain and South Korea.
The UN isn’t exactly pleased with these results, which come alongside the news that overall worldwide economic growth has been flagging. Upon the release of the report, WIPO urged all nations to invest more seriously in industries that will likely promote the most economic growth in the future.
“Historical technological breakthroughs have been at the root of long-lasting expansions in economic output,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. “Successful innovation, at the company level or across the wider economy, requires perseverance, particularly in periods of anemic growth when innovation budgets are under pressure. We need to reinforce the environments that give rise to the breakthrough technologies of tomorrow.”
The report compared 3D printing, robotics and nanotechnology to the most influential technology of the past, such as airplanes, antibiotics and semiconductors. Those innovations led to major expansions in business and explosive economic growth. If we want a healthy economy in the future, WIPO argued, all governments must invest in today’s groundbreaking technology, rather than just a few.
Out of the three industries mentioned, the leaders in 3D printing are particularly exclusive, with the top ten 3D printing patents in the last twenty years being filed by the United States, Germany and Japan. The United States has filed for the most, with Stratasys and 3D Systems holding the top two slots. General Electric and United Technologies also made the top ten. The remainder of the list was rounded out by German companies Siemens, MTU Aero Engines and EOS, as well as Japanese companies Mitsubishi, Hitachi and Toshiba.
China has been catching up rapidly, however. Since 2005, Chinese companies, universities and public research organizations have accounted for more than a quarter of the patents filed in 3D printing and nanotechnology.
South Korea, meanwhile, announced in the recent Ministerial Meeting on Regulatory Reform, held on November 6, that 3D printing will be among six industries that the government plans to invest in further by easing regulations and supporting research and development.
So how does the rest of the world catch up? WIPO pointed to several elements that define the healthiest economies: government funding for scientific research, competitive market forces that encourage innovation, strong, well-regulated financial markets, and collaboration between public and private sectors. The report also noted that research at universities and public research organizations is a major driver of innovation.
Fortunately, it seems that more countries are making 3D printing a priority in educational institutions, which will hopefully spur increasing adoption of the technology in industrial settings. By the time the next World Intellectual Property Report is released in 2017, perhaps the group of leaders in 3D printing and other top technologies won’t be quite so small.
Do you agree with the United Nations? Let us know in the UN 3D Printing forum thread on 3DPB.com.