Too Little Spending on R&D?

Yep, posting ahead of the site’s launch… what can I say, we’re super cutting edge. There’s a really interesting article by Ashlee Vance at Businessweek published yesterday questioning whether a lack of R&D and innovation will kill the 3D printing boom. That seems unlikely to me, given that much of the innovation potential is just now being unlocked as pioneering patents expire. But Vance argues that the leaders in the field are spending relatively little on R&D:

Here’s the rub: 3D Systems spent just $14.3 million on research and development in 2011. That’s a paltry 6 percent of revenue. Its main rival Stratasys (SSYS) posted 2011 revenue of $155.9 million and spent $14.4 million on R&D. (link)

Is that too little? It’s hard to say. Some people say 3D Systems could be the next Apple. So by (admittedly deficient) comparison, Apple spent $3.4 billion on R&D in FY 2012. And even though that’s 39% higher than FY 2011, it was still only 2 percent of revenue and far less than competitors like Microsoft and Google in terms of both percentage and total expenditure. But again, it’s really Apples and oranges (*ahem*), since we’re talking about completely different scales.

The USPTO said recently that 6,800 patent applications have been filed in the last 10 years in the 3D printing space, meaning at least somebody thinks there’s still new and useful ideas left in the area.

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