Printing spare parts through additive manufacturing: legal and digital business challenges

Rosa Maria Ballardini*, Iñigo Flores Ituarte, Eujin Pei

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to investigate the technology, business and intellectual property issues surrounding the production of spare parts through additive manufacturing (AM) from a digital source. It aims to identify challenges to the growth of the AM spares market and propose suitable solutions. Design/methodology/approach: The paper begins with a systematic literature review and theoretical analysis. This is followed by case study research through semi-structured interviews, forming the basis of a triangulated, cross-case analysis of empirical data. Findings: The paper identifies several obstacles to the development of the AM-produced digital spares market. The manufacturing industry will soon be forced to re-think AM as a real manufacturing alternative. Short-term, AM technology has implications for the production of components for legacy systems for which tooling facilities no longer exist. Long-term, AM will be used to produce a wide range of components especially when product and/or service functionality can be increased. To enable companies to navigate current uncertainties in the patent framework (especially the “repair vs make” doctrine), new intellectual property rights strategies could be developed around patenting both complex devices and their individual components, and seeking patent protection for CAD files. Further harmonization of the EU legal framework, the interpretation of claims and the scope of protection offered in the context of spare parts, will also be important. Originality/value: This study pinpoints key issues that need to be addressed within the European AM business environment and the patent system and proposes recommendations for business and legal frameworks to promote the growth of a stable European digital spare parts market.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)958-982
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Manufacturing Technology Management
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Additive manufacturing
  • Digital businesses
  • Patent law
  • Service operations
  • Spare parts
  • Strategic management


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