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May 28, 2021

Review: “Digital Swadeshi and 3D Printing Intellectual Property in India: The Multi-level Perspective, Causal Layered Analysis and Backcasting” by Thomas Birtchnella, Angela Dalyb and Luke Heemsbergenc

Author: Krithika Muthuraman

Citation: Birtchnella, Thomas; Dalyb, Angela; and Heemsbergenc, Luke, “Digital swadeshi and 3D printing intellectual property in India: The multi-level perspective, causal layered analysis and backcasting”, Futures, ISSN: 0016-3287, Volume 122 (September 2020) < https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2020.102596>


The subject research paper proposes the use of 3D printing technology in India as a potential tool to democratize production and resultant Intellectual Property (IP) creation. The research paper borrows its context of the Swadeshi movement and the coinage of Digital Swadeshi from a newspaper column authored by Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni on the subject. It bases its foresight and analysis on data collected from the United Kingdom IP Office’s global workshop series on ‘3D printing and IP futures’, the Indian leg for which was held in Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee in 2018. The research paper  primarily discusses the method and context for data collection and its foresight and the past trends of IP Regulation in relation to the potential for 3D printing innovation in India.

‘Make in India’ and Digital Democratization

This section of the research paper  provides context to the researchers’ view of India as a potential market for 3D printing innovation, based primarily on India’s acceptance and support of open-source technologies and freedom of innovation. It then references ‘Digital Democratization’, i.e. the democratization of production and making of objects by individuals themselves that 3D printing could enable. Aware of the limitation of scale associated with 3D printing technology, the researchers argue that this makes the technology ideal for individual, customized use and a potential boost to “peer-production”. The researchers view this ‘Digital Democratization’ and the power of individuals to join an eco-system of co-creators with other individuals and organizations alike as being consistent with the goals of the Make in India initiative. To support this, the researchers also draw parallels with the Swadeshi movement from the early 1900s, which saw a promotion in self-sufficiency over reliance on imperial mass-produced goods.

The parallels drawn between the potential democratization through widespread adoption of 3D printing technology and the swadeshi movement are interesting. The researchers’ reliance on successful historical movement with aid from the current eco-system establishes a strong case for a potential 3D printing technology market in India. However, it does not appear to factor in certain socio-economic limitations that would make adoption of the technology at the scale it roots for, challenging. In specific, it does not appear to have touched upon the issue of awareness or accessibility of a sizable portion of the Indian population to technology (potentially 3D printing technology in the future), limiting the assumption and impact of democratization to an exclusive part of the population.

3D Printing and IP in India

Having somewhat established a context for its foresight, the next section discusses the role of the IP regime in promoting growth of the technology in India. It first establishes that 3D printing involves IP in two aspects- creation and infringement. While democratized use of technology could enable more individuals to be IP creators, the availability of Computer Aided Design (CAD) files online has been stated as a potential concern for increase in infringement. In light of this, the research paper further examines the copyright framework and judicial trends in India. This section discusses provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957 and the limitation of protection it accords against making of a three-dimensional object from a two-dimensional artistic work for the purposes of industrial application of any purely functional part of a useful device. It also cites judicial trends in upholding refusal of grant of patents in certain spheres, and the liberal invocation of public interest rights over those of foreign organizations, including in copyright matters. Based on the above, the researchers argue that while 3D printing technology may be well adopted and the related IP protected in certain areas, its use in areas viewed as ‘domestic priority’ such as healthcare, education and agriculture, may serve to limit rights of certain foreign IP holders.

In its analysis of the law and judicial trends, the research paper draws a noticeable contrast between priority of localised interests as a boon in promoting the technology in India and the same priority as also indicative of a potentially challenging environment for foreign IP holders in India. This section is also apt in recognizing that regulations surrounding 3D printing remain at a theoretical stage across various jurisdictions, and are evolving to suit growth of the technology and industry.


The research paper, through its basis in history and the visions of the Make in India, makes a strong case in favour of the growth of 3D printing technology in India, and its significant role in catalyzing more creation, including that of Intellectual Property. Its exploration through the IP regime to highlight an existent channel for promotion of innovation, including that of policies in support of self-sustenance and local growth, further aids its case in favour of growth and innovation in the technology in India. In doing so, the paper also sufficiently brings out the IP challenges in 3D printing, the addressal of which remains to be seen.

Disclaimer: Views, opinions, interpretations are solely those of the author, not of the firm (ALG India Law Offices LLP) nor reflective thereof. Author submissions are not checked for plagiarism or any other aspect before being posted.

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