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Form1 3D Printer and Kickstarter Get Sued For Patent Infringment 211

An anonymous reader writes "3D Systems, one of the big fish in 3D printer manufacturing, filed a suit against Formlabs's hugely popular Form1 printer put forth on Kickstarter. The crowdfunding effort has amassed close to 3M US Dollars, of an initial 100K requested. 3D Systems accuses Formlabs and Kickstarter of knowingly infringing one of its still valid blanket patents on stereolithography and cross-sectional printing of 3D objects. The company is probably going to go for the kill, as one can deduce from the demands on their complaint." In "The State of Community Fabrication" presentation at HOPE9, Far McKon noted that no one had yet filed a patent lawsuit against a 3D printing company, but it looks like his fears have come true.
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Form1 3D Printer and Kickstarter Get Sued For Patent Infringment

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  • by Andrio ( 2580551 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @10:01AM (#42054429)
    After all, why take time and energy creating better products when you can just set your lawyers on the competition.

    These startups must me punished for their hubris.
  • Not surprising (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @10:07AM (#42054487)

    The US have brought this onto themselves, now live with the patent mess and watch the US economy sue itself into oblivion and slowly self-destruct.

  • by WillAdams ( 45638 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @10:09AM (#42054509) Homepage

    When I make something as simple as a dovetail box, when it's time to cut off the lid, I carefully do not cut the lid all the way off, leaving some uncut areas around the edges to hold the lid in place so that the saw blade doesn't bind.

    The patent in question is for generating supports to hold a model in place as it's being printed --- if one does this same thing in a subtractive process, it's obvious that one would be able to in an additive process.


  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <> on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @10:10AM (#42054525)

    Seems as though the patent is legit. Although it's not nice of them to sue without talking to the From1 builders first. ... Or did they attempt to do that and got rejected? If so, it's their given right to start legal action.
    Could Form1 licence the patent is the next question I'd ask.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @10:18AM (#42054617)

    While I don't approve of the patent litigation, it's not fair to characterize 3D Systems as a patent troll. They do spend plenty of time and energy (and money) creating better products, as they did to create their existing products.

  • by Joehonkie ( 665142 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @10:19AM (#42054637) Homepage
    To me this looks like the 3D printing version of an " X but on a phone" patent. Using a break-away scaffolding on a solid object is a classic part of casting.
  • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @10:20AM (#42054649) Homepage

    Have you never had to pull small plastic model parts from a sprue?

    Seems to me that this is a necessary and obvious part of doing any sort of 3D modelling in any kind of material, or things won't mould/print properly (because it's not technically possible for them to float in space while you work on them).

    If anything, I would hope the patent was dismissed on the grounds of obviousness, but certainly it should be obvious to one "skilled in the art" of 3D printing. And, failing that, if they just got some reasonable and non-discriminatory patent licensing terms, there's a few million dollars lying about that they could have a chunk of just by NOT suing.

  • by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @10:30AM (#42054739)

    They do spend plenty of time and energy (and money) creating better products, as they did to create their existing products.

    If their products are so much better, why are they so afraid of a little competition?

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @10:34AM (#42054783) Homepage

    Yea, great business model. Piss off nerds that use a HUGELY popular web site. [sarcasm]

    You might be surprised to find out that nerd rage doesn't go a long way to intimidate corporations and lawyers.

    Us pissing and moaning about such things doesn't really tend to actually change much.

    And, of course, that idiot who heads the USPTO will claim this is how the system is supposed to work and that it's driving innovation. It's not, but he'll still continue to claim that.

  • by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @10:43AM (#42054885) Homepage
    They are a patent troll if they are patenting something obvious and using that to stifle competition. Whether they are practicing the patent or not should not be the sole determiner of whether they are a patent troll.

    If you really want innovation then patent a firmware restriction that prevents printing anything rectangular having rounded corners.
  • by TheGavster ( 774657 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @10:53AM (#42055015) Homepage

    Unfortunately, the automatically generated, easy to remove support structures were a key feature that form 1 advertised for the machine (probably second only to the high resolution of the prints). The tool becomes much less versatile without them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @10:53AM (#42055017)
    Actually, it's pretty fair to characterize 3D Systems as a patent troll. The Form 1 kickstarter received considerably more press *before it was completed* than their patent ever did, and they claim in their legal filing that the press they did receive was sufficient that both Form 1 (who is actually in the 3D printer field) AND Kickstarter (who is not) should have known everything about said patent due to it's coverage in a single blog posting online. If a single blog posting online is sufficient for persons and groups uninvolved in the field to be legally expected to be fully aware of all details of the relevant patent and it's ownership, then the coverage Form 1's project received _well in advance of completion_ would be sufficient that 3D Systems should be legally expected to have known about it, and been aware that all that was required of them to prevent any violation of their patent was communicating with Kickstarter and informing them of said patent violation, which is against Kickstarter's terms, and would have resulted in the termination of the project before any infringement could occur.

    Instead, 3D Systems willfully allowed said project to go to completion, rather than stopping it before it became a violation, and therefore if the same level of expectation of awareness their lawyers place upon Kickstarter is placed upon them, they are in fact the ones responsible for said infringement, by virtue of knowingly allowing it to proceed.

    In all likelyhood, they decided there was more money to be gained from suing a successful project in an attempt to "claim" the funds collected without having to produce any product for it (as well as "treble damages, which would likely in their minds constitute considerably more than three times the collected project funds). Therefore, yes, they are in fact patent trolls.
  • by hsmith ( 818216 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @11:00AM (#42055119)
    Why should they invest all of the money in R&D so someone else can just take it for free?
  • by Xeth ( 614132 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @11:03AM (#42055143) Journal
    I think you may be misunderstanding GPP. It was a simple (somewhat pedantic) statement about how the traditional definition of a patent troll is someone that doesn't have a product. Since they have products, they're not a patent troll.
  • by darronb ( 217897 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @11:15AM (#42055311)

    You're essentially asking why bother with patents at all. The hobbyists have been copying patented innovations of these commercial 3D companies. It was only a matter of time before this happened. Before, it would have been swatting at mosquitos. Now, a rabbit's popped up with $3 million, and they're going to shoot it.

    The hobbyists have created a lot of innovation, too. The basic hobbyist MO is copy and improve. That's fine when you're copying other open source/hardware stuff... but when you copy someone's proprietary crap, you're in a grey area.

    Hobbyists will obviously argue against patents, because they don't benefit from them much at all. Commercial companies need to do something to prevent large scale ripping off of their work, or they can't survive. (Case in point: the recent MakerBot Industries change of heart... which depresses and dissapoints me but as a small manufacturer myself I understand why they might think they have to do that)

    This absolutely affects these commercial companies' bottom line, and they have every legal right to protect the investments they've made in R & D. I have a commercial 3D printer myself and I just went out of maintenance partially because a brand new Replicator 2 is possibly better and costs the same as one year's maintenance. This is an absolutely clear textbook case of what patents are supposed to be for.

    This is essentially a collusion of worlds. "Cool, I could make that" vs. someone's got to make a living. Believe me, it sucks when you know you could make something but you're just not allowed to. I have a good deal of sympathy for both sides. I've released open source software (including -very- minor contributions to the Linux kernel), I'm becoming active at my local hackerspace, AND I sell proprietary industrial products that I could not make a living doing if they were free to copy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @11:18AM (#42055349)

    So to compress the 80 pages of drawings into stuff a regular geek can understand: they are antialiasing, in the z-axis.

    Stop the world, I want to get off.

  • So if Form 1 software is tweaked not to do this, then it would not infringe. At the same time, by the filing of the lawsuit, 3D Systems may have done irreperable harm to Form 1. Counter suit anyone?

    If Form 1 currently infringes, such that they would have to tweak their software to not infringe, then 3D Systems did nothing wrong in filing their lawsuit. A countersuit on such grounds would be frivolous and unjustified, and only get them into more trouble.

  • by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @11:55AM (#42055861) Journal

    why are they so afraid of a little competition

    Legitimate competition, perhaps. But I think they can justifiably object to competition that significantly copies their technology. [I am not trying to make a statement about 3D systems' patents, their validity, or any possible infringement by Form1's embodiment - I haven't evaluated it enough to judge.]

    We're not talking about an Apple-Samsung patent war here, quibbling over bounce-back software patents and rounded corners. Rapid prototyping is the kind of thing that the patent system was designed to protect: genuine, tangible technology that makes things and makes things better. All the current players in the market invested a lot of money, time, and ingenuity to create theirs; they are allowed by law to defend themselves.

  • by jandrese ( 485 ) <> on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @12:45PM (#42056611) Homepage Journal
    Kickstarter doesn't give out money unless the project goes all the way to completion and meets its goals. There wouldn't be much point in suing them before the Kickstarter was over, they would just kill the Kickstarter and have no money to sue over. You have to wait until they've got a few million bucks. That's how patent trolling works.
  • by loneDreamer ( 1502073 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @01:24PM (#42057197)

    Because it benefits us,the people.

    At the expense of them, the company.

    Exactly, and that is the way it's supposed to happen. Patents, Copyright and others are not supposed to guarantee that a few people get rich, but instead that the benefit to society is maximized. I lost count on how many times the constitution has been quoted (on both cases) to prove it so. The question remains on how the hell did they manage to sell us the first definition so it's now the most common argument.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:30PM (#42058873) Homepage

    That's the problem with patents. It presumes that the ideas are "stolen" and not independently developed.

    Why should they spend money on R&D? So they can create the product they want to sell. Other people should do the same. As far as I'm concerned, as long as it can be shown that a technology which has been patented has also been independently developed by another party, then claims of infringement should be lost. After all, if the reasoning stems from money invested in R&D, what about the R&D done by the competition? What if they actually did their own research and development? And what if they did a better job than the plaintiff?

    I'm sorry, but blood, sweat, tears and resources argument doesn't move me. Lots of and lots of people work their asses off daily and only get paid for it once. If someone does all the R&D, patents and markets their thing first and they make a profit, then they achieved their goal and established a reputation. There should be NOTHING that guarantees their business model except continued hard work and effort. This notion of doing it once and getting paid forever is just broken. Worse is the notion of getting someone else to do it once and then getting paid forever. But now we're talking about patent trolls and the entertainment industry.

  • by Man On Pink Corner ( 1089867 ) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @05:50PM (#42060389)

    It is the responsibility of any inventor to do a patent search first to understand the patent landscape and determine where they have freedom to operate.

    Bullshit. You have absolutely no affirmative obligation to perform a patent search. In fact, it amounts to negligence to do so, because the USPTO's policy of rubber-stamping everything that crosses their desks means that whatever you're going to do almost certainly is covered by multiple trivial patents. If it can be shown that you were aware of those patents, any damage awards will be trebled.

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.