A report published on 19 September 2023 by the European Patent Office (EPO) shows that innovation in additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, has surged over the past decade. The study, Innovation trends in additive manufacturing, shows that international patent families in 3D printing technologies grew at an average annual rate of 26.3% between 2013 and 2020 - almost eight times faster than for all technology fields combined over the same period (3.3%).

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The 3D printing market has also become more diverse. While previously the main players were established engineering companies, there are now also many start-ups and specialised additive manufacturing companies emerging. In total more than 50 000 international patent families (IPFs) for 3D printing technologies have been filed worldwide since 2001. An IPF represents a significant invention for which patent applications have been filed for two or more countries worldwide.

With this study, we’re taking a global perspective on the 3D printing revolution using international patent data to report on the scope and implications of this technology trend, says EPO President António Campinos. Europe secured four of the top ten spots for research institutions in additive manufacturing innovation. This bodes well for the future since technical progress in this field often stems from the cutting-edge research in these institutions.

US, European, and Japanese companies at the forefront

Europe and the US are leading the global race for 3D printing innovation. The US holds the top spot, with 39.8% of all IPFs related to additive manufacturing between 2001 and 2020. Europe (39 EPO member states) closely follows with a 32.9% share. Together, these regions account for nearly three-quarters of worldwide 3D printing innovation. Japan accounts for 13.9% of all 3D printing IPFs, and China and South Korea for 3.7% and 3.1% respectively. Within Europe, Germany has emerged as the clear leader, accounting for 41% of Europe's share, while France is in second place with 12%.