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