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How 3D Printer Maker Aleph Objects Pushes the Open Source Envelope 51

Posted by timothy
from the catch-us-if-you-can dept.
Lemeowski (3017099) writes "In a time where there's a 'gold rush' for 3D printing patents, there's one company that's doing everything it can to keep its 3D printers as open as possible. Jeff Moe, CEO of Aleph Objects, said in an interview with Opensource.com that his company's strategy is 'to not patent anything, but to establish prior art as soon as we can. So when we develop things we try to push it out there as soon as possible and hope to establish prior art if there isn't prior art already. That allows us to develop a lot more quickly.' The company makes the Lulzbot 3D printers, and goes to the extreme of publishing every last detail about its printers, Moe said, including syncing its internal file system that it uses to share files on the development of the machine to the public every hour so you can see what they're doing."
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How 3D Printer Maker Aleph Objects Pushes the Open Source Envelope

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  • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @11:19AM (#46574131) Journal
    To patent and then just openly license? It would prevent others from trying to sue then if their patents were already established, rather than having to go through the process of fighting off a patent troll and attempting to establish prior art.
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by NotDrWho (3543773)

      Patenting costs real money. This "company" sounds like a bunch of idealistic kids working out of a basement somewhere. I seriously doubt a company that names their product "Lulzbot"has the money to pay staff salaries, much less hire a patent attorney.

      • by CastrTroy (595695) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @11:41AM (#46574375) Homepage
        Another reason why the patent system is broken. Only large companies can afford to hire a patent attorney and actually be granted a patent. Little guys, who really need the protections, can't get patents anyway.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          From an email I just received from my CTO:

          "...must be in agreement on the technical and business soundness of applying for the patent, which will cost the company approximately $20,000-$30,000, or more, for filing fees, lawyer fees, and labor for our staff."

          I knew the little guys could never come out ahead in patent disputes, but I didn't realize the up-front fees were so high too.

      • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @11:50AM (#46574475) Journal

        I seriously doubt a company that names their product "Lulzbot"has the money to pay staff

        Well it's certainly easier to criticise on the internet than bother to do any actual research. Aleph is apparently hiring right now. Those are real jobs which come with actual salaries. In other words, take your silly, stuffy attitude and shove it. Meanwhile, I'll continue to happily use the excellent LulzBot at the hackspace I'm a member of.

        Meanwhile in the real world, there are plenty of people who don't require products to have "serious" "businessy" names in order to use them. You're probably one of the people who complain about the GIMP as well. I've not met a single person who didn't use it because of the name either.

        • by NotDrWho (3543773)

          Well, in that case, the OP had a valid criticism. They're pretty stupid to not be filing for patents (since they're rolling in the phat cash and all). When someone else grabs all the patents up and hits them with a lawsuit tsunami, I doubt there will be many lulz to be had. Prior art is a piss-poor defense against a real patent onslaught (just ask Samsung).

          • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @12:15PM (#46574693) Journal

            They're pretty stupid to not be filing for patents (since they're rolling in the phat cash and all)

            So apparently the two options are "so poor they can't pay staff" and "rolling in the phat cash".

            Let me introduce you to the radical notion that they might have enough cash to pay staff and grow, but only if they don't waste wads of "the phat cash" at a time on patents.

            Prior art is a piss-poor defense against a real patent onslaught (just ask Samsung).

            So is owning patents. Just because you have a patent on part of your machine, doesn't mean someone else might not also have a patent on another part of it. Even if you own patents, you're right back to having to use prior art or a settlement if you're attacked. The point of amassing patents is so you can counter-sue if you're sued. If you're attacked by (a) a patent troll or (b) someone rich, you're fucked either way.

      • The Basement (Score:5, Informative)

        by Yeb (7194) <moe@@@alephobjects...com> on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @12:53PM (#46575065) Homepage

        NotDrWho,

        We are definitely not working in our basement, though we did start in mine 3+ years ago. Gizmag visited our current facility recently. You can check out their tour here:

        http://www.gizmag.com/tour-ale... [gizmag.com]

        We definitely pay salaries too. In fact, we're set up with a Professional Employers Organization, Insperity. We offer healthcare to 22 employees, along with the other standard benefits.

        We're not (all) kids either. My slashdot account is getting close to 18 years old even. ;) Our staff, advisors, and board of directors includes people with their signature on Mars for components they designed, the former Director of Engineering of Seagate (wrap your mind around the complexity of that for a minute), a major former HP exec responsible for $18 billion/year, the former Director of Finance of Digital Globe (Google Maps), and the chair of the Debian Technical Committee.

        Also, our patent attorney has won billion dollar (with a "B") patent cases. He's no slouch. :) Plus we work with EFF, Harvard Cyberlaw, Public Knowledge, and other groups to push back against patents in 3D printing and patents in general.

        I've spoken about it at length with our US Congressman Jared Polis (he invited me to a patent workshop too) and two of his potential rivals in November. I spoke briefly about it with US Senator Michael Bennet when he visited. So we're working on it at the political layer too.

        Just sayin'...

        -Jeff Moe, Aleph Objects, Inc. CEO

        • by g4sy (694060)
          Hey thanks for being cool. My business has recently gotten to the point where I don't have time to make a reprap and probably do have the money to buy a top-end consumer printer but I have refused to give a penny of my money to Bre Pettis.So I'll probably be buying a TAZ 3.0 to start.

          It sounds like you have a cool team and I hope you can keep them reminded that in the long run your vision and goals will pay off much better in the long run compared to pulling a Bre and being a total dick. I'm just so fucki
          • by Yeb (7194)

            Yes, get a TAZ! :)

            https://www.lulzbot.com/produc... [lulzbot.com]

            I've done a lot of things to make sure that the company stays free & open. Firstly, by making myself the final word (for now). Per our bylaws, I can only be removed from the company by court order. :)

            The board of directors is me, Steven (long time employee, very much for free/open), and Bdale Garbee (very hardcore netgod of free software development). We will only have people on the board that are already 100% on board with free software. So we have ano

        • by sixoh1 (996418)

          Thanks for the check in Jeff - sorry for the trolls....

          Back to the original OP topic of patents - Do you think that Colorado's congressional delegation is any more informed about the destructive effect of poor patents on this market? I know they have certainly made hay of having you in their districts as a sign of their super-fantastic "stewardship" of Colorado's industrial relevance.

          • by Yeb (7194)

            Np, I can handle trolls. This thread has been surprisingly lucid, actually. ;)

            Colorado's 2nd Congressional district is represented by Congressman Jared Polis. This district includes Boulder, Fort Collins, and Loveland (where we are). Polis and his family started bluemountain.com and made out with hundreds of millions of dollars during the 1990s dotcom boom. So he's probably the only dotcom millionaire in Congress and probably the only congressman that could set up Apache. ;) He is well informed on patent

    • by fermion (181285)
      It would be better. It works for copyright because there is no process to go through.

      The patent system is broken because it is becoming like copyright, in the sense the no physical object or specific implementation is needed, but there is still an expensive process to get a patent. If it were simple as saying, hey everyone can use this but if you do and make it public all improvements have to be made public as well, that would be great. But there is no way to enforce that. The only thing to do is hop

    • The problem with the "patent now and open later" approach is that it then takes "forever" to get a product to market. If you throw a year or two away just waiting for the patent, you've lost a lot of time. Also, it means the development of the product has to be done in secret, so there is no community development process available. We would rather publish early & often. :)

  • SPAM (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by Thanshin (1188877)

    Is upvoting SPAM the new entertainment in Slashdot?

    What's next? "3D print your penis larger"? "Bitcoin yourself to success in 5 days"? "Lose 15 pounds with the secret method the NSA doesn't want you to know"?

    Why are all my sentences questions?

  • Remember now first to file not first to invent.

    They already pretty much ignore Prior Art.

    Yay? How?

    • Yes, but that would be in a patent dispute. Where 2 parties were arguing over who owned a patent. If one party were arguing that there was NO patent because they had prior art... I'm not sure how that would go. Patent lawyers? I know you're out there... what say you?

      • It would be relevant in any patent dispute including alleged infringement. Even with first-to-invent, claiming the existence of prior art didn't protect you in any way until you worked through the court system to have a judge/jury validate your claim. Nothing changes in that regard with first-to-file. The lawyers will get paid no matter what.

      • http://www.uspto.gov/aia_imple... [uspto.gov]
        Based on what I read there is a 1 year grace period where prior art is null and void so... if You invented on January 1st 2014 someone has until December 31st 2014 to file (before you) and take your invention.

        Then there is the possible "lost paperwork" that several bigger businesses would be happy to "pay" persons of low integrity in USPTO to "accidentally" lose so theirs can be considered FIRST.

        USPTO is a paid WHORE for big corp. Power is nice, but NOTHING beats what peopl

  • Please, hurry, do prior art for the following "patents":
    3D printing... ... with computers. ... without computers. ... over the internet. ... with a mobile device. ... with a smartwatch. ... for children. ... for elderly. ... wireless. ... through SMS. ... using XML.
    [insert yours obvious patents here]

  • More please! (Score:4, Informative)

    by sixoh1 (996418) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @11:28AM (#46574257) Homepage

    It certainly helps Aleph that the original FDM patent has expired so at least they aren't under immediate assault. On the other hand it is worrisome that they have to think so hard about the "prior art" aspect - is that really what the open source actions is about? If so I'm skeptical that this is a valid solution since the current regime of patentability (I'm looking at you software patents) means there is plenty of danger for them in the dependent/follow-on patents that Stratasys has filed. Lots of necessary and related improvements to the FFF/FDM process are "obvious" if you are building a machine to be useful for additive manufacturing, but USPTO does not use that approach to determining patentability. The worse bit is that if one takes the time to actually dig into the PTO database looking for other's patents, and trying to "work around" - you might be open to contributory infringement (at least stateside), so most folks actively ignore the PTO database to prevent such skeletons. That means LESS information sharing rather than more...

    On the gripping hand, I'm happy to see Aleph using the lessons of the software world as a viable business model - forget the 3D printer part. All electronics hardware businesses should be able to follow this model if they are willing - the end result for human productivity, creativity and technological advancement seems inevitable. Assuming Patents are somehow overcome as an obstacle (and for example here we can assume that BRICS nations will take up the flags if US based companies like Aleph are strangled by patents), what else stands in the way of getting more hardware companies to act like Aleph?

    My suspicion, having worked in electronics manufacturing for 20+ years is that hardware companies are mostly run by old-line (80s and 90s era) engineers, who cling to privacy, NDAs, trade-secret, etc. by force of habit and comfort. Having spent years coaching my last company about the benefits of open-source (both hardware and software) to naught, I'm betting we won't see more of these kinds of firms until more CEOs die and retire...

    • My suspicion, having worked in electronics manufacturing for 20+ years is that hardware companies are mostly run by old-line (80s and 90s era) engineers, who cling to privacy, NDAs, trade-secret, etc. by force of habit and comfort. Having spent years coaching my last company about the benefits of open-source (both hardware and software) to naught, I'm betting we won't see more of these kinds of firms until more CEOs die and retire...

      It has been fun watching these companies crash into the reality of Android

    • My suspicion, having worked in electronics manufacturing for 20+ years is that hardware companies are mostly run by old-line (80s and 90s era) engineers, who cling to privacy, NDAs, trade-secret, etc. by force of habit and comfort. Having spent years coaching my last company about the benefits of open-source (both hardware and software) to naught, I'm betting we won't see more of these kinds of firms until more CEOs die and retire...

      That sounds like a rather unique company, since most are run by MBAs who have no engineering knowledge and are only interested in the current hot trend to make money in the short term. Or maybe your company isn't in the US?

      • by sixoh1 (996418)

        Nope, US based. While the "CEO"s are usually MBAs, in many companies from Intel on down the real decision makers of whether things get open sourced are engineers who have climbed the ladder. Think "VP of Engineering", "VP of Product Development" - these are the folks that usually crush open source movements within established firms... "because". They don't understand open source, they didn't do it that way in the 80s, and no amount of argument will convince them otherwise. Add in a corporate legal counsel

    • by Yeb (7194)

      One patent lawyer for a major company mentioned that she saw all the older guys were all proud of their patents and showed them off, but the young engineers just cringed at the mention of patents and wanted nothing to do with them.

      • The old guys are from when patents were a sign of true innovation and achievement. The new guys are from an era when the optimal policy for most businesses is to file for everything they possibly can to build up a portfolio, most of which are for obvious trivialities like rounded corners or 'x, on a computer.'

        • by sixoh1 (996418)

          If you have ever been to the HP (now Agilent) facility here in Colorado Springs, you can walk the graveyard of literally bulldozed cubicles, behind the remaining old cube farm walls. On the walkways are thousands of plaques with US Patent numbers and inventors. The inventors are gone, their cubes are piled like trash, and the shell of the old company exists as not much more than a US based front for a Penang Maylasia based manufacturing outfit with an ever shrinking number of US "engineers" designing more a

  • Most of the important patents are expired, the technology is taking off due to a combination of the relevant patents expiring and Moores law driving down the cost of key components.

    • by sixoh1 (996418)

      "Important" is meaningless in the eyes of the law - think "swipe to unlock" lawsuits between Apple and Samsung. ANY infringement can bollox your nice little innovative startup and crush novel products. Component costs are not now, nor have they ever been the barrier to innovation, if that was the case then we should be seeing a massive wave of innovation coming from China, Thiland and Maylasia. Instead most of it is still coming from Taiwan and California.

      Capital (human and cash) is the real driver, and cur

  • by iggymanz (596061) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @12:24PM (#46574779)

    I used to be in CADD/CAM, 3D printing and other means of extruding 3D objects under control of computer is more than two decades old. nothing new with these recent cheap printers other than cheap price, and there are cooler techs that allow you to make objects out of *gasp* real metal! some work with powders as feedstock, others solutions......but the point is this is old, old hat other than now hobbyists on a budget get to play at the very shallow end of the pool (which is fine)

    • by sixoh1 (996418)

      While the concept is "old", the actual technology in use here is hardly "old hat". FDM/FFF itself was stillborn as a product from Stratasys mostly due to the extremely high cost of entry - I have clients that purchased systems from Stratasys 15 years ago, and they are far more excited and anxious to use the capabilities of the new-market FFF systems because the vibrant and competitive market from non-commercial RepRap and all of the commercial spin offs like Aleph is putting a significant number of new eyeb

      • by iggymanz (596061)

        what?

        I'm talking about the tech manufacturers used in the mid 90s for making real things and rapid prototypes.

        not about hobbyist toys for making Yoda heads or other artsy-fartsy

        • by iggymanz (596061)

          just for example, powder metal laser sintering for making "soft tools" (dies, etc.) and even working metal engine parts for prototypes was mature tech two decades ago. Been there, did that.

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