3D Printing

3D Systems names Kickstarter in Formlabs 3D printing patent suit

3D Systems names Kickstarter i...
Formlabs' Form 1 is at the center of the dispute
Formlabs' Form 1 is at the center of the dispute
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Formlabs' Form 1 is at the center of the dispute
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Formlabs' Form 1 is at the center of the dispute

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.

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.

The complaint makes reference to various media coverage of the Form 1 that explicitly stated that stereolithography patents exist. 3D Systems argues that such coverage makes the existence of such patents "well-known," and claims that Formlabs must either have "knowledge of," or exhibited "willful blindness" towards its '520 patent. Kickstarter, meanwhile, is described by 3D Systems as Formlabs' "sales agent" in its complaint, and points out that Kickstarter's Terms of Use require that technology sold through the site does not infringe any patent. "Kickstarter contributes to the infringement of the '520 Patent by offering to sell and selling within the United States the Form 1 3D printer," the complaint states. 3D Systems asserts that Kickstarter must also have "knowingly or with willful blindness" induced the infringements of its '520 patent.

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.

Via Wired

19 comments
Emilio Reyes
This article makes me really sad...
Anunaki
Formlabs are screwed! + Kickstarter , The least they could do is a simple Patent search, MIT graduates...
Joep Swaggermaker
Cubify 3D is literly keeping us from getting a very good 3d printer only because of a flawed patent system that very much limits innovation.. Cubify 3D itself is making crappy product so it's like Peogeot keeping Ferrari from making sports cars.
Derek Howe
Kickstarter is great, anyone with a little money can VC, and you get your item for a lower price then you would otherwise. I really don't like 3D Systems going after them. Hopefully this will all blow back on 3D Systems for going too far in their lawsuit.
Jason Doege
It is far from clear that Formlabs is violating this patent. It is not a patent on this fundamental method of 3D printing, but rather a patent on a method that increases the effective resolution of prints for a given resolution of material and imager. Even if they are using the method, there is then an opportunity to question the validity of the patent.
3D Systems is using the technology; they are not patent trolls. They are simply trying to protect their rights. In fact, if they fail to protect their rights when they become aware someone might be violating them, they may tacitly give up those rights later which would be bad for them. 3D Systems spent their treasure innovating and, through the patent system, that grants them the right to enjoy the spoils of their innovation for a period of time which has not expired.
The problem, here, is one of disparate entities. Formlabs, one could presume, is poorly funded to defend themselves from a lawsuit. 3D Systems might sue simply on the possibility that Formlabs is violating this patent in order to produce a sufficient financial burden, just from providing a defense, on Formlabs to eliminate them as a potential competitor.
The funny thing here, is that 3D Systems stands to recover almost no money at this point, as, until Formlabs ships something, I think no damage has been done to 3D Systems. If 3D Systems prevails, it will be interesting to see what legal requirement Formlabs has to make the pledgers on Kickstarter whole, as they will be legally unable to ship product and the pledged money will have been spent. I suspect everyone will simply be out their pledge.
Perhaps Formlabs should start another Kickstarter to fund a legal defense.
MasterG
they should put petty fighting aside and let it just go in the name of development. Spend their lawyer fees on making a better product instead,thus we all win. They are retarding the flow.
Stefaan van Damme
Imagine what would have happened when one ape sued another one for the invention of speech. And the ape that slapped his back.
Soltron
Cubify is speciously claiming that they invented the process. Nothing could be further from the truth!!!! They are attempting to appropriate the research that led to this method. This is typical of companies populated by opportunists bereft of any moral or social responsibility.
Riaanh
@Joep,Soltron, it is not Cubify which is doing the suing. Cubify is just one of the products of 3D Systems. 3D Systems is the grand-daddy of rapid prototyping systems. The company already started in 1986 - 25 years of running a commerical 3D printing bussines. So I am sure they have quite a few 3D printing type patents under their name.
So no, they are definately not patent trolls.
But I am starting to think that the patent systems needs to be re-looked at. I think it is stifling innovation. Perhaps a shorter period before patents expire?
Tudor Tihan
Time to boycott Cubify for trying to destroy a great innovation platform and for using a too vague a patent to build a monopoly ?