Healing Supply Chain Disruptions through Protected 3D Printing

A trusted innovation exchange platform allows you to discover know-how and products that you can trust and directly support the innovators behind it.

Disruptions in critical supply chains impacted by rapidly evolving markets or societal crises increase pressure to commission new sources of supply and production. 3D Printing provides mechanisms to augment traditional manufacturing during such supply chain transitions. InvenTrust provides an industry leading platform to safeguard and monetize trade secrets and proprietary IP seamlessly, from the first instant of sharing a digital file to the final product delivery.

An alternative method of manufacturing, additive manufacturing or 3D printing is a process of making an actual three-dimensional product of your choice using a digital file. It is gaining immense popularity with manufacturers and consumers alike, due to it’s on-demand, on-location production flexibility. The digital files containing product designs for digital printing are intellectual property assets of their creators, whose intellectual property rights (IPR) are copyright protected, which make them highly valuable and sought-after assets that, if not shared in a controlled way. could result in illegal copies of the original product being produced.

Imagine a safe zone, a borderless trusted digital marketplace that is open to all, where people are brought together because their registered interests have been mapped and cross-pollinated by autonomous bots. A paradise for creative spirits whose additive manufacturing or 3D printing designs are autonomously alerted to potential buyers, with licensing agreements being managed by smart contracts, supplier performance being managed by reputation scores with royalty payments activated by such smart contracts ensuring that original designers receive royalties for every adapted additive manufacturing design variation because licensed usage is tracked with the consumption of every variant. We believe that all this and more can be made possible with InvenTrust — a blockchain-based rights management solution.

Quick Take 1: Bringing Together the Talent to Design 3D Printed Parts for Medical Ventilator to Manage the Covid-19 Crisis


On the InvenTrust platform we are planning to bring designers together to work on 3D design for key parts of a medical ventilator — which is one of the highest value products that has been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. The manufacturer — a leading auto maker who has been mandated to produce medical ventilators — would be able to discover and enlist “best-in-class” design rights and award a license to an outsourced additive manufacturer using a smart contract for a part such as a medical valve. An embedded QR code or serial number for on chain transactions could facilitate an authorized workshop to produce the part and activates royalties for it, including to the original design holder (who could be inventors based in Milan, Italy even though the production was occurring on printers located in Detroit, Michigan). Small batch production of a little used highly value, or even obsolete part then becomes economically feasible. The process for the commercialization of an otherwise underutilized design asset is thereby simplified, and is limitlessly repeatable with endless innovation possibilities.

Here is how the process works end-to-end:

  • Designers register their designs through InvenTrust’s on-line platform with the option of sharing it openly or with limitations chosen by the designers.
  • Interested parties bid for use of the design and once the contract is awarded via a Smart Contract process, the successful bidder receives a license to view or to print. A co-creation or innovation partnership could also be possible as an option where the design could be further developed or customized according to the parties’ needs.
  • The printed products have a unique embedded QR code or a serial no. printed on the physical product that comprises information about the material used, the designer, printing company and retailer.
  • Upon execution of a print or a view, a royalty payment is activated and every transaction is captured on chain.
  • A reputation score can now be captured on chain for future dealings with the parties involved.
  • Being a borderless distributed application, the final product could be printed thousands of miles away without any compromise to the rights of the designer and the quality of the product without risks of data corruption in transit. Of course, the process could also reduce import taxes.
  • This application demonstrates traceability and provenance while avoiding additional costs and risks related to prevailing current-day cross border technology transfer practices.

Digital Transformation of Manufacturing

Figure: Digital Transformation in the Manufacturing Industry

Digitization in various emerging forms brings about positive implications on optimizations related to design of products, supply chain, organizational processes, and end customer perceptions. As applied to Digital Manufacturing, the InvenTrust Protocol creates the possibility of protecting and commercializing IP rights seamlessly — starting from the first instance of sharing a digital file to the final product being delivered into a customer’s hands. The InvenTrust Protocol autonomously matches interests, triggers notifications and execute contracts for those who are part of this community; appraises IP rights, awards licenses to users, triggers online sourcing and bidding and activates smart contracts to manage bidding, negotiations, and royalty payments.

Intellectual Asset Registration

The digital nature of additive manufacturing technologies opens up new dimensions for the consideration of the IPRs associated to the creation, distribution, exploitation and management of designs and products. These are intellectual properties of a creator and/or a manufacturer, assets which are fundamental to the ability of the individual or a manufacturer to capitalize and monetize in order to gain a commercial advantage over their competitors. Hence, new design creations whether these are related to automotive components, medical devices or armaments could land in an infringers’ hands and precipitate large losses for the creator, entrepreneur or the corporation that invested in generating those creations. The current process for IP registration is a complex and costly affair and as such a deterrent for designers and creators. Innovators often prefer not to share their creations hence inhibiting new frontiers of discoveries.

Although there has been considerable research on concepts related to information security, license management, copyright protection and proof of authenticity, the arena of intellectual asset protection for additive manufacturing is still quite nascent.

On chain communities leveraging the InvenTrust Protocol participate in the appraisal and assigning of IP rights, the awarding of licenses to users, triggering of online sourcing and bidding, and the activation of smart contracting to manage bidding and negotiations as well as royalty payments.

The European initiative AM-Motion, to facilitate and ensure the progress of additive manufacturing or 3D printing, has highlighted potential issues related to additive manufacturing in the following areas:

  • 1. Need for digitization of patent law (not just copyrights) and Digitization of design rights and trademarks
  • 2. Territoriality of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) vs. Global nature of digitalization
  • 3. Protection of information included in CAD file via exclusive rights such as IPRs
  • 4. Legal Nature of CAD file (to be clarified if Software or Work of art or database) IPRs protection of new materials such as for Bioprinting
  • 5. Limits to apply patent law due to possible ethical issues involved
  • 6. Enforcement issues of IPRs related to digitalization

Use of technical protection measures (e.g. blockchain) to increase efficiency of enforcement of rights

Manufacturing Trust

The process for a proprietary design to be digitized in preparation for additive manufacturing involves many external parties: ranging from the translation of a CAD drawing and an STL file to file sharing among project team members comprising of material suppliers, laboratories and their prototyping engineers, printers and/or distributors. This prevailing ecosystem reeks with opportunities for unauthorized use including reverse engineering. Additionally, the complexity of digital supply chains is compounded with the requirements of supplier audits, compliance activities, quality appraisal for certification, regulatory and contractual compliance. This entails finding ways to cultivate Trust between the participants of such ecosystems so that they can exchange know-how and rights that are essential to the smooth functioning of manufacturing processes.

Rights Management with Smart Contracting

InvenTrust is building a distributed ledger protocol that offers a breakthrough approach to generating intangible asset liquidity. Intangibles assets — whether they are poems, paintings, patents, or processes — represent an asset class that is valued at over $20 trillion today. Yet, this huge asset class remains largely illiquid as intangible assets are difficult to discover, share, and exchange without fear of misappropriation.

InvenTrust’s platform represent a breakthrough in embedding the trust required for executing complex transactions involving intangibles through a blockchain-based, “ownership wrapper” that can generate liquidity through consensual agreements among multiple transaction stakeholders. As such, this is a use-case that needs to be proliferated within the Supply Chain Management, logistics and related IT communities as it demonstrates how to embed value in a transparent ledger above and beyond capturing value from point transactions.

Being part of the InvenTrust marketplace coupled with decentralized Apps (“dApps”) enables Scouts and Rights Holders of design files to exchange and monetize them through tokens, thereby creating the world’s first liquid market for rights.

The InvenTrust protocol facilitates efficient transfers between creators, termed “Rights Holders” and commercialization-oriented agents — who we call “Scouts” and who are continuously assessing commercial fits for consumer, scientific or industrial applications of particular rights. It allows the enhancement of rights, assignment or payment of royalties, and the creation of reputations associated with know-how and related rights. In the InvenTrust market-network, Rights Holders will be able to share and transfer rights, by way of licensing, to Users and Scouts in exchange for Tokens (as referenced in Figure 1).

Figure 1: Overview of the InvenTrust protocol participants

Monetizing rights can become a significant source of income for individuals and organizations. It is estimated that 21 million IPRs are registered every year — which is a miniscule fraction of the creative output that could be registered and monetized by the global population involved within the arts, science, technology, design, and other creative industries. Most of the first wave of early digital developments and solutions related to patent, copyright, music, and image related rights are simply creating larger registries for IPRs.

Benefits of an on chain additive manufacturing eco-system

The InvenTrust Protocol enables trade secrets to be shared with the appropriate precautions. Following the completion of appraisals, a smart contract can be triggered according to the criteria defined by the Rights owner related to releasing of licenses and licensing or contractual terms; options, exclusivity, geographical specifications and terms of use. As a result, coordination requirements are low provided industry-specific codification standards are followed. [Look at the use case in Quick Take 1.]

We anticipate that the InvenTrust protocol will generate the highest impact in industries comprising of Modular Market Value Chains that involve less complex transactions than Relational Value Chains which involve transactions that cannot be adequately codified. Modular Value Chains often lead to the highest premiums for the underlying rights which may also attach to rights managed through other value chains such as those managed by large enterprise software companies and their “captive” network of Certified Partners. In doing so, we are rationalizing how value is registered, transacted and enhanced. As a result, this could help correct imbalances in the allocation of value among global value chain participants.

World Economic Forum has shared this video on how 3D Printing is starting to transform our lives all over the world:


We look forward to your reactions and thoughts on this post about how you envisage the emerging confluence of blockchain and AI would transform Industry 4.0. Feel free to reach out at #innovationlove.

Thanks to Esther Koh, Felix Walter , Pete Swearengen , James Dix , Ram Mashelkar , Julian Weinstock , and Henry Kaufman for conversations that contributed to this post.

Author: Raj Malhotra,
Founder & CEO, InvenTrust
Serial innovator with a track record of hacking ideas into transformative enterprises. Skilled builder of start-ups and teams within Fortune 500 companies that generated outsize returns from modest investments in disruptive technologies and innovation processes. Expertise in channeling network effects to create extraordinary value for diverse communities across multiple industries — ranging from healthcare to travel services to software assets. Inventor with patents in 3D printed surgical meshes, cognitive radio, and distributed ledgers. Passionate about data-intensive businesses that can deliver order of magnitude value enhancements through transformative applications of AI and ML capabilities.