3DS sues innovative new 3D printer company Formlabs & Kickstarter for patent infringement

3D Systems, one of the big, incumbent 3D printer makers, is suing Formlabs, an innovative new 3D printer company that prints in resin (see previous mentions), for patent infringement. They've also named Kickstarter to the suit.

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."

Many of the key patents in 3D printing start expiring in 2013, and will continue to lapse through '14 and '15. Expect a big bang of 3D printer innovation, and massive price-drops, in the years to come.

3D Systems Announces Filing of Patent Infringement Suit Against Formlabs and Kickstarter


  1. Mmmm, innovation! Inspired by the expiration of patents, not the granting of patents. 

    This is why I hate patents.

    1. but how would the people who did the original risky and expensive work that led to the eventual plethora of new derivative designs have been motivated to take such risks in the first place, if not for the temporary protection of the patent system?

      you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you!

      1. Good point! How do restaurants make money when they’re not allowed to patent recipes?  How do fashion designers make money when they’re not allowed to patent clothes? How do furniture makers possibly stay in business even though they’re not allowed to patent furniture?

        Truly there’s only one way to make money in this world and that’s through legal enforcement.

        1. well, it is my understanding that things like clothes, for example can be protected under trademark, which would support my point, I think.    In addition, I personally don’t equate the sort of basic r&d required to design a new class of machine tool with making a new shirt, do you?

        2. I am not a lawyer, but typically recipes and clothing would be copyrighted or trademarked.  Furniture might be copyrighted, trademarked or protected with a design patent.

          If someone came up  with a particular technology that is applicable to, say, clothing, that could be patented.  There are a plethora of patents that have protected zipper mechanisms, for example.

          Or consider that Ekornes has patented the friction mechanism of their stressless recliner.

          That said, I am a big fan of open hardware & creative commons.  It’s too bad this happened, and even the cost if doing a patent search to ensure you aren’t infringing can be prohibitively expensive.

      2. Get real, they would have been motivated by the same things other businesses are: selling the stuff that they’re creating.

        1. you seem to miss the point though, in the case where great risk and expense is needed to create fundamentally new technology (not simply refine it) does it not make sense to reward that additional risk, rather than ignore it as you seem to want?

          1. Crappy example Pete, because “bam” Kickstarter allowed solutions to the expenses/risks and the people at Formlabs are clearly the sort who will innovate with, without or in spite of patents.

            You assume things would not happen without the system but I must advise you that your argument only stands if you ignore one part of human nature to favour another. 

            That’s silly. 

            The base motivations of creative endeavour, greed, necessity, or any other motivation to innovation remain without a patent system, thus can such a system only hinder innovations by limiting knowledge pools.

            A patent system is the opposite of a merit based system, whether you are an inventor or an economist.

            BTW did you read the press release. So silly, 

            “Why, they’ve built a 3d printer, so there’s gotta be something in there, right? cause we have patents that haven’t expired, see? And since we’re a big publicly traded company we can shitcan these upstarts with an injunction or two instead of making sure our products merit their market share when held up to competition.”

          2. I’m not missing the point, I simply don’t agree. I think that even without Eli Whitney’s patent we would still have our modern clothing industry. Not only that, but I defy you contend otherwise.

          3. the point is to reward those who risk time/money/ideas on new technology, buy giving them a slight head start, otherwise those same people might not be as motivated to put in the resources needed to bring new ideas into the world, I can’t understand why this is such a hard concept to grasp. I certainly agree that the patent system as it currently exists is a complete mess, and needs to be overhauled from the ground up, but it should not be eliminated, that would be throwing the baby out with the bath water!

          4. Stop treating people who don’t agree as ignorant, you patronizing t***.

            However, it appears to be a simple fact that business people and their lawyers don’t think their salaries should be subject to the same laws of commerce that Walmart jobs are: “If you don’t want the money we can find someone else who does.” This is what history tells us.

            Do you think people would stop looking for cures for cancer if there was no patent system? Then why is that the subtext of pro-patent logic?

          5. You’re doing no such thing, but go ahead and pretend like you’re taking the high road as you reiterate that anybody who doesn’t adopt your point of view doesn’t understand the issues. Typical aristocratic cop-out, deciding you’re offended at being called names and using that as an excuse to abandon a losing argument.

            If you’re having a logical conversation, how come you haven’t answered my question about whether cancer research would be conducted in a world without patents?

          6. Cancer research would slow to a crawl without patent protection, just like most long term very expensive research projects.

            You know why?

            Let’s say I run a big pharma company and have spent 4 billion over the last decade to cure a cancer (I’d say breast cancer but that seems all to obvious.)  It passes trials and enters the market.  Six months from now my competitor releases the same drug for a quarter the cost.  They were able to do this by examining my product and either copying it or making something very similar…all the time spending very little on the R&D side of things.

            You can rail on about how human drive and nature will win out, but humans can’t do squat without resources.  You can’t walk down to the corner store and pickup lab equipment like you’d need to cure cancer (even if you could you’d have to be that 1% to pay for it.)

            That’s all not to say that someone couldn’t eventually cure it on their own, or as part of a small company.  But generally speaking having access to virtually unlimited resources typically expedites the process.

          7.  just like most long term very expensive research projects.

            …under the patent system. Are you, like our friend Mr. Dilworth, really contending that nothing would spring up in its absence?

          8. Risk AND expense?  And aside from financial risk what are you talking about?

            Why should private risk be guaranteed by government protections?   Plenty of people take a risk and get a loan for an education.  It fails a lot.  I don’t want to assume their failures. Do you?

            They why are we protecting these people? What protections do they need?

            Why do I have to bankroll a governmental patent army so that someone doesn’t have to continue working?

          9. lets say there was an awesome new technology that someone wanted to introduce, and it would take, say 5 years and 1 million dollars to develop. But lets also say that the patent system has been eliminated, and that persons work would be open to copying as soon as they released the first product.  That person might reasonably decide not to pursue that line of research for fear of being ripped off from the starting gate.  This is the sort of scenario the patent system is meant to address.

      3. Name a company that has no competition because they patented a product or process. Patents don’t stop competitors; they just cause competitors to have to come up with products or processes that are different enough in the details to forestall patent infringement lawsuits.

        I’d rather that companies spent all their R&D money designing useful products instead of navigating the patent minefield. They’d produce more useful stuff for less money.

      4. Terrible point. People do NOT have revolutionary ideas that stand alone. Great ideas are built on the work of those who have come before and to protect such ‘innovations’ is totally insane.. If I can see how it works then it’s mine to copy.

  2. I tried to see if I could find the particular patent claim that is causing the problem, but it was not mentioned in the link. If someone could post it or a link to it, we might be able to find some prior art that knocks it out. Or, just possibly, 3DS have got them bang to rights.

    Finding a counter-claim won’t necessarily be enough. You still lose your legal costs if you challenge a patent claim, even if you are in the right. What larks, eh?

      1. Thanks.
        This is not a well-written patent. I note that the main claims 1, 12, and 19 do not specify whether the irradiated bit is the bit you keep or the bit you throw away. The ‘synergistic stimulation’ could be irradiation or it could be chemical energy, so you could be etching or cross-linking. If you were playing safe, you would write separate claims for each possibility, so if someone knocked over one of them, the other would still stand.

        Intriguingly, this same company coined the term ‘stereolithography’ back in 1986 (see  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereolithography They were genuine innovators in this field, but it made me wonder how they could be patenting stereolithography in 1994 using a word that they coined for apparently the same process in 1986. What they actually claim in this patent was a thick goop with some other strategies so they could write overhanging shapes and skinny bits that would not otherwise survive unsupported. This is clear in the summary but it is not clear to me in the claims, and that is the only place that counts.

        Some of the late claims are a bit more specific. I suspect they may have a case. They certainly have enough to make a very long and messy court case. I guess we’ll just have to wait until 2014.

  3. I think 3D Systems may have a legit case but the other case, with  ArtistShare, smacks of patent office dreck.  Methods for raising funds should not be patentable.  What next?  A patent for getting people to come to your meetings?

  4. A company that makes a machine that can produce an exact copy of any item, is suing a company with a similar product.

  5. The fact that they’re suing Kickstarter immediately says to me, regardless of the merits of their case against Formlabs, that they’re trolls.  What a stupid, stupid thing to do.

  6. 3D systems sell products like the Zcorp machines that were developed at MIT just like the current Formlab printers! They are attacking the innovative hand that feeds them!! If after 20 years of protection they can’t put out machine affordable enough to compete with a group of recent graduates, their company has SERIOUS problems. Wake up 3Ds, we are coming for you, and attacking DIYers is fueling our fire…..

  7. I realized this back in the early 90s when Glide came out with the first Gortex dental floss. It changed my life. Thank goodness the original Gortex patent expired and the innovators were set free.

  8. Jesus Christ.  I was really looking forward to getting one of their machines, too.

    As previously stated, it’s frustrating as hell that 3D Systems can’t just reevaluate their overpriced products and actually try and COMPETE with other companies like the rest of the world. 

    This has now got me thinking about other technologies that are only expensive because the copyright holder gets to set the price.

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