The patents that'll make 3D printing suck

Wired's got a roundup of evil patents that are going to make 3D printing expensive and barren of innovation for years to come. There's even a business-model patent in there. Ick. (On the plus side, there are a couple that are close to expiring)


  1. At a glance, the majority of these seem to be examples of the patent system working appropriately and as intended. Some are grossly overbroad or obvious if it is indeed the general concept being patented and not just specifics; Stratasys’ soluble material patent appears to be something like lost-wax casting as applied to plastics, but the actual claims cover Stratasys’ specific material compositions.

    On the other hand, the Distributed Rapid Prototyping one is clearly both overbroad and obvious, and MakerBot seems to have patented the conveyor belt.

    1. The patent system hasn’t worked appropriately for a long time and the only “as intended” qualification that can be made is that it’s working as intended by patent trolls. The original purpose of patents is to incentivize innovation, “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.”

  2. Note to self: Patent two processes:
    #1: the process of applying for a patent
    #2: the process for initiating a patent suit

  3. Let’s do away with patents for say, 20 years. Sure you can file, but nothing happens. It’s just an idea registry. No ownership. See what develops in two decades.

    1. It’s easy to know what would happen. Zero patents would be filed.
      And it would be a huge boon for a select group of industries. The software side of the computer industry, which is the poster child for the most broken aspects of the patent system, would become almost immeasurably healthier overnight. Some aspects of medical industry would similarly open up.

      And every industry connected with any sort of manufacturing or complex process would instantly go dark.The hardware side of computers? A twenty year black hole.
      Intel comes up with a new fabrication process? Better hope their rivals or startups can duplicate it from scratch because there sure won’t be any help. A medical company comes up with a better microscope component? Better hope that tech isn’t applicable to any other industry because it’s never getting shared. Ever. And anyone who does manage to reverse engineer it is also not going to share it. A significant discovery might need to be re-engineered dozens and dozens of times.

      The patent system is in place because before the patent system everything was a nightmare. Inventions and methods were kept secret within guilds and individual businesses. There was zero crossover of ideas and minor disasters or unforssen deaths regularly wiped processes out of existence. Ever watched those history shows where they say “such and such technique was then lost before being re-discovered four hundred years later…”? That’s because all the details to some important process in making pottery or whatever was known to one family and they all happened to get the flu and die. The end.

      I know I love seeing those neat articles about “thing that was originally invented for the Apollo program now produces environmentally sustainable lima beans” or whatever. The end of the patent system is the end of all that. All that stuff Boeing and the others invented for the Space Race? Would be blueprints in their vaults and exist nowhere else outside news reels. The neat tech for fitting a whole computer inside a single room? IBM never let a word of the technical details out.

      Actually, there’s the makings of a pretty good Alt-History book there…

      Look, the patent system is all sort of suck. Massive issues. But anyone who suggests just getting rid of it better also be presenting a cohesive alternative along with a vision of how society operates without it. Otherwise we are talking magical fairy dust Karl Marx “Everyone will magically cooperate and get along once the current system is gone” levels of idealism.

  4. I’m not sure this is actually all that bad. It might just keep the corporates out, and leave the field open for makers that can just ignore the patents.

    1. That’s great for you working in your garage. Plenty of people are. If you poke around the 3D printer community you can find people with personal projects using a massive amount of these patents.

      And as soon as they want to collaborate with someone else or post their plans for others to improve on or upload a laser cutting diagram to Thingiverse it’s hello Cease and Desist.

      Basically any action that takes this from the tinkering in your garage level to the interacting with a community level is nixed by the patents.

      And god help you if you actually wanted to start a Makerbot style company that might infringe on some of these patents.

      1. Nah, just host the discussion somewhere beyond the reach of American copynazis. The Pirate Bay, for example.

  5. I had little doubt that the lawyers would make sure that nothing useful or productive is actually possible with 3D printing…they can’t allow people to opt out of the corporate supply stream. I actually think they will use weapons laws to outlaw 3D printers that are not reliant on proprietary software, or keys, or digital calls home to operate. Bad guys could print gun parts or plastic knives or whatever. Imagine Apple making 3D printers, but controlling the types of items you can make and you’ll see the future.

    Sure, Makers can make them, but they will never ever be cheap and ubiquitous.

    Sigh. The future is only going to be allowed to happen to the extent that there is a profit stream for the large companies.

    1. Yep, and this will delay progress until the Makers have a printer than can reproduce printers.  At that point, it moves on to become the new Drug War, imprisoning and killing innocents in the crossfire for a generation.

  6. This may result in places like Venezuela or some other nation exiting all patent treaties in order to lure innovators to their economy. “Come to us!” they will cry, “you’re safe from patent trolls here!”

    At the moment it is only the threat of sanctions that prevent this from happening, but several of these countries are already waiving pharmaceutical patents for the very reason that those patents cause more harm than good for their citizens.

  7. I’m all in favour of law & order, since it keeps the wolves at bay, but we’re on the cusp of such a major tech and sociological revolution that will permanently alter resource usage and fabrication location forever.  Anything in the way annoys me.  If the progress (and this is real progress!) of society were to be hindered, if lives were less-well lived or even lost, in the absence of the open availability of these capabilities, we’d be lesser people.

    That said, maybe this will spur smarter development and ingenious patent-killing lawsuit kickstarter-type activity.

    The risk is we get a long, slow, head-ache of development along the lines of electric vehicles and renewable energy.

    I want it to work, right now.

  8. I have to say, these patents read to me like exactly how patents are *supposed* to work. Company invents new technology for a manufacturing process or equipment, profits from it at a markup protected by an enforced monopoly for a set period of time, and 20 yrs later when it becomes public the next tier of manufacturers (read: all the Makerbots and Printrbots and dozens of others) make it dirt cheap. In the mean time, the big guys have moved on, inventing new tech to stay ahead on performance, or else they die.

    Now, is 3D Systems a bully trying to sue its competitors out of existence and prevent competition in the market for materials and so on? Yeah. But the patents are working just fine.

    IP on 3D models, on the other hand…

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