3D Systems Corporation announced today that it has brought suit in the Federal District Court of South Carolina, Rock Hill division, against Formlabs, Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts and Kickstarter, Inc. of New York, New York. 3D Systems is seeking injunctive relief and damages for infringement of one of its patents relating to the stereolithography process.
3D Systems’ complaint asserts that the sale and use of the Form 1 3D printers sold by Formlabs and Kickstarter infringe a U.S. patent relating to stereolithography. Formlabs sold the Form 1 3D printers to backers of its Kickstarter campaign in September and October 2012. ”3D Systems invented and pioneered the 3D printing technology of stereolithography and has many active patents covering various aspects of the stereolithography process,” said Andrew Johnson, General Counsel of 3D Systems. “Although Formlabs has publicly stated that certain patents have expired, 3D Systems believes the Form 1 3D printer infringes at least one of our patents, and we intend to enforce our patent rights.”
So here it is, the patents wars have begun with 3D printing. 3D systems is also filing suit against Kickstarter. Does this mean any company that has a patent claim will try to hold Kickstarter accountable? How about amazon? Amazon processes the payments to Kickstarer… Is 3D systems going to file suit against MIT too?
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It’s a big world out here. Seriously, let the U.S. reap the rewards of their policies.
If you have the capacity to start a business (and have demonstrated it), then there are many countries which will welcome you with open arms. There are even locations in Europe which are arguably better for small businesses and start-ups.
As a side note, I love the idea of your antispam resistor "captcha", but being color blind I had to ask someone else to fill it for me 🙁
This isn’t the beginning of the patent wars here; it’s been running for years. This is probably the most visible, though. It’s understandable, since some of these companies have invested tens of millions of dollars in pursuing what is today a limited market.
This is especially interesting in that, as was explained to me, FormLabs already redesigned their system to avoid patent liability. (The faster, simpler, cheaper approach to this style of fabrication is using a DLP projector instead of a laser, but that is heavily patent protected.)
This is actually an area where my thoughts are a bit grey. I believe that most, if not all, software patents are invalid and a hindrance to innovation. In materials science and mechanism design, though, I think the patent system does still fulfill its original purpose — granting a limited-time monopoly to spur innovation.
I don’t know the specifics behind 3D Systems (I think they’re a conglomerate of a several early 3D printing companies), but if they did do some of the early work on stereolithography they probably invested a lot of money in designing materials that could cure correctly. Would they have gotten that money invested if there wasn’t some assurance that once they had worked out the bugs, another company couldn’t just build a knock-off?
I believe that patents in the current situation can and should only be used in a defensive manner against others who wish to use the government against their competitors by suing for patent infringement.
When a existing company files suit and it necessarily has a lot of money (a condition of using law dogs), it doesn’t care if it wins or loses, it’s purpose is to sap the lifeblood (capital) out of their competitors.
The patent trolls are engaging in eliminating market entry through the use of government aggression.
There is no such thing as intellectual property. Once some method or device is uttered into the market there is no more secrecy. There is only two factors a manufacturer can count on, the head start they have over competitors and the margin above cost they have in production. If there is enough margin competitors will enter the market no matter what. The company should maintain their trade secrets as much as possible.
My final take on 3D systems is a quote from their 2011 annual report:
We believe that, while our patents and licenses provide us with a competitive advantage, our success
depends primarily on our marketing, business development and applications know-how and on our ongoing
research and development efforts. Accordingly, we believe the expiration of any of the patents, patent applications
or licenses discussed above would not be material to our business or financial position.
3D systems is hoisted on it’s own petard. They are hypocrites in their own annual report.
When did intellectual property have anything to do with secrecy?
If you’re going to talk about reaping what you sow, would you prefer to start a business where your intellectual property is protected or where your property can be taken by anyone?
Patent cases are now nothing more than sucking capital from a competitor. Apple is one of the worst abusers.
This is not the start of the "3D patent wars". This is an ordinary patent suit. It doesn’t involve anybody producing something using 3D printing; it’s about a specific technology used for 3D printing.
Calling 3D Systems hypocritical for this is ridiculous. The purpose of stereolith printing was NOT to allow people to infringe on intellectual property, but to allow for rapid prototyping of new ideas without paying large tooling costs.
Whether you like it or not, technologies like stereolith might never have been developed in the absence of a legal mechanism that helps recoup the costs of development. Do you think the stereolith process was cobbled together in somebody’s garage over a weekend? Every product produced by a corporation undergoes a product life cycle evaluation before development gets off the ground, and if the product cycle cuts off as soon as other companies are able to ramp-up production, this makes MOST projects involving any real innovation impractical to undertake.
The REAL war will start when somebody puts a tax on 3D printers or the materials they require to work, similar to the tax put on "audio" CD-R discs a few years back. Actions like these infringe on everybody’s rights, since they penalize people for creating things, based on the ASSUMPTION that the makers are cheating somebody else. THIS is the sort of thing we need to keep watch for. But demonizing people for trying to profit from their work? That’s off the mark.