In what are very probably two patent lawsuit firsts, 3D Systems, makers of the Cubify 3D and other 3D printers, is suing 3D printing startup Formlabs over the design of its Form 1 3D printer. But in an eye-opening twist, Cubify 3D has extended the lawsuit to include Kickstarer, the crowdfunding site through which Formlabs raised almost US$3 million. It's a development that could have far-reaching implications for both Kickstarter and crowdfunding sites in general, beyond the sphere of 3D printing. It is believed to be the first patent infringement suit between two 3D printing companies as well as the first leveled at Kickstarter.
A press release issued by 3D Systems explains that the case for infringement surrounds the stereolithograpic process common to the Form 1 and some of 3D System's high-end industrial machines. Also known as optical fabrication, stereolithography is an additive 3D printing process that uses an ultraviolet beam to solidify a liquid polymer sensitive to light.
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In its complaint, 3D Systems cites its own patent, filed with the US Patent Office under Patent Number 5,597,520, which patents a process for higher resolution stereolithograpic 3D printing by delaying the solidification of previous layers as new ones are applied.
Though Formlabs has claimed that expiring patents have enabled them to pitch Form 1 at a relatively affordable price, 3D Systems claims that "at least one" of its current patents is infringed.
Concerns have been raised that the naming of Kickstarter in the suit may jeopardize the site's fostering of innovation if it is forced to ensure that no technology sold through it infringes patents.