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3D Systems names Kickstarter in Formlabs 3D printing patent suit

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November 22, 2012

Formlabs' Form 1 is at the center of the dispute

Formlabs' Form 1 is at the center of the dispute

In what are very probably two patent lawsuit firsts, 3D Systems, makers of the Cubify 3D and other 3D printers, is suing 3D printing startup Formlabs over the design of its Form 1 3D printer. But in an eye-opening twist, Cubify 3D has extended the lawsuit to include Kickstarer, the crowdfunding site through which Formlabs raised almost US$3 million. It's a development that could have far-reaching implications for both Kickstarter and crowdfunding sites in general, beyond the sphere of 3D printing. It is believed to be the first patent infringement suit between two 3D printing companies as well as the first leveled at Kickstarter.

A press release issued by 3D Systems explains that the case for infringement surrounds the stereolithograpic process common to the Form 1 and some of 3D System's high-end industrial machines. Also known as optical fabrication, stereolithography is an additive 3D printing process that uses an ultraviolet beam to solidify a liquid polymer sensitive to light.

In its complaint, 3D Systems cites its own patent, filed with the US Patent Office under Patent Number 5,597,520, which patents a process for higher resolution stereolithograpic 3D printing by delaying the solidification of previous layers as new ones are applied.

Though Formlabs has claimed that expiring patents have enabled them to pitch Form 1 at a relatively affordable price, 3D Systems claims that "at least one" of its current patents is infringed.

The complaint makes reference to various media coverage of the Form 1 that explicitly stated that stereolithography patents exist. 3D Systems argues that such coverage makes the existence of such patents "well-known," and claims that Formlabs must either have "knowledge of," or exhibited "willful blindness" towards its '520 patent. Kickstarter, meanwhile, is described by 3D Systems as Formlabs' "sales agent" in its complaint, and points out that Kickstarter's Terms of Use require that technology sold through the site does not infringe any patent. "Kickstarter contributes to the infringement of the '520 Patent by offering to sell and selling within the United States the Form 1 3D printer," the complaint states. 3D Systems asserts that Kickstarter must also have "knowingly or with willful blindness" induced the infringements of its '520 patent.

Concerns have been raised that the naming of Kickstarter in the suit may jeopardize the site's fostering of innovation if it is forced to ensure that no technology sold through it infringes patents.

Via Wired

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life.   All articles by James Holloway
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19 Comments

This article makes me really sad...

Emilio Maldonado Reyes
22nd November, 2012 @ 05:01 am PST

Formlabs are screwed! + Kickstarter , The least they could do is a simple Patent search, MIT graduates...

Anunaki
22nd November, 2012 @ 05:57 am PST

Cubify 3D is literly keeping us from getting a very good 3d printer only because of a flawed patent system that very much limits innovation..

Cubify 3D itself is making crappy product so it's like Peogeot keeping Ferrari from making sports cars.

Joep Swaggermaker
22nd November, 2012 @ 07:58 am PST

Kickstarter is great, anyone with a little money can VC, and you get your item for a lower price then you would otherwise. I really don't like 3D Systems going after them. Hopefully this will all blow back on 3D Systems for going too far in their lawsuit.

Derek Howe
22nd November, 2012 @ 08:31 am PST

It is far from clear that Formlabs is violating this patent. It is not a patent on this fundamental method of 3D printing, but rather a patent on a method that increases the effective resolution of prints for a given resolution of material and imager. Even if they are using the method, there is then an opportunity to question the validity of the patent.

3D Systems is using the technology; they are not patent trolls. They are simply trying to protect their rights. In fact, if they fail to protect their rights when they become aware someone might be violating them, they may tacitly give up those rights later which would be bad for them. 3D Systems spent their treasure innovating and, through the patent system, that grants them the right to enjoy the spoils of their innovation for a period of time which has not expired.

The problem, here, is one of disparate entities. Formlabs, one could presume, is poorly funded to defend themselves from a lawsuit. 3D Systems might sue simply on the possibility that Formlabs is violating this patent in order to produce a sufficient financial burden, just from providing a defense, on Formlabs to eliminate them as a potential competitor.

The funny thing here, is that 3D Systems stands to recover almost no money at this point, as, until Formlabs ships something, I think no damage has been done to 3D Systems. If 3D Systems prevails, it will be interesting to see what legal requirement Formlabs has to make the pledgers on Kickstarter whole, as they will be legally unable to ship product and the pledged money will have been spent. I suspect everyone will simply be out their pledge.

Perhaps Formlabs should start another Kickstarter to fund a legal defense.

Jason Doege
22nd November, 2012 @ 11:34 am PST

they should put petty fighting aside and let it just go in the name of development. Spend their lawyer fees on making a better product instead,thus we all win. They are retarding the flow.

MasterG
22nd November, 2012 @ 01:03 pm PST

Imagine what would have happened when one ape sued another one for the invention of speech. And the ape that slapped his back.

Stefaan van Damme
22nd November, 2012 @ 02:31 pm PST

Cubify is speciously claiming that they invented the process. Nothing could be further from the truth!!!! They are attempting to appropriate the research that led to this method. This is typical of companies populated by opportunists bereft of any moral or social responsibility.

Soltron
22nd November, 2012 @ 05:29 pm PST

@Joep,Soltron, it is not Cubify which is doing the suing. Cubify is just one of the products of 3D Systems. 3D Systems is the grand-daddy of rapid prototyping systems. The company already started in 1986 - 25 years of running a commerical 3D printing bussines. So I am sure they have quite a few 3D printing type patents under their name.

So no, they are definately not patent trolls.

But I am starting to think that the patent systems needs to be re-looked at. I think it is stifling innovation. Perhaps a shorter period before patents expire?

Riaanh
23rd November, 2012 @ 03:47 am PST

Time to boycott Cubify for trying to destroy a great innovation platform and for using a too vague a patent to build a monopoly ?

Tudor Tihan
23rd November, 2012 @ 04:00 am PST

I think 3d systems is confused. Unless they have a patent on crowd sourced funding, Kickstarter is blameless (Formlab might have violated the contract, but that is on Formlab, not Kickstarter). Let's hope this costs lots of money for 3d Systems, and that that precedent protecting the facilitation is recognized.

Charles Bosse
23rd November, 2012 @ 09:31 am PST

When you have had a monopoly in SLA for 25 years, there is little incentive to innovate a low priced solution. This is the reason patents expire after a time. The Form 1 must have scared the pants off 3D Systems. However, if the patents have not expired, then FormLabs jumped the gun if they used it -- or did not find this later patent in their patent search. This is most likely a defensive move to forestall the inevitable competition from taking away business before they can have competitive machines ready. It may also be a strategic move to become a partner in the Form 1 product design and distribution. The threat of a lawsuit that FormLabs can not afford is an inducement to settle on some terms.

I have read the patent claims they site. It is a weak claim, because they are citing a logical and obvious way to image each layer -- knowing that the Laser light will normally bleed through to deeper, previously exposed layers. I doubt they know if the Form 1 purposely infringes this claim at this point, unless they were doing some industrial espionage. They probably just assume that anyone doing SLA can't help but do this as a side effect of shining light through a clear liquid, and trying to better cure the previously exposed layer. In any case it is not fundamental to the SLA process itself. For instance, a sufficiently opaque liquid, could keep the Laser light more contained in depth, but that should point out that it is weak, because extra steps have to be taken to avoid this naturally effect. I do note that the Form 1 does initially use a semi-opaque liquid. We will have to see how Form 1 responds. Naming KickStarter as a defendant is IMHO an invention of their lawyers and is a ridiculous overreach -- unless they notified KickStarter during the campaign that they knew for a fact the the Form 1 infringed on their patent. They made it sound more like they were saying it is KickStarter's responsibility to research every project's technical details to determine that they do not infringe any patents or copyrights. That would be an impossible task. That is the sole responsibility of the project leader to not knowingly infringe, and the patent holder to enforce the patent.

see3d
23rd November, 2012 @ 11:13 am PST

One would think the 20 year patent life expiration has past as the first filing of the patent was back in October 1990 for this simultaneous multiple layer curing in stereolithography. The patent is filed again in April 25, 1994 and issued Jan 27, 1997 abandoning the original filing. I am one not keen with the USPTO office allowing algorithmic patent. These are ideas and formulas. Does coca-cola reveal it's fomula for classic coke, no. You can taste it and try reverse engineering it. Same with this curing methodology, you are revealing the formula. Anyone can further optimize this algorithm and improve upon it and file a new patent just as 3D Systems did abandoning original patent.

Vernon K Wing
23rd November, 2012 @ 02:44 pm PST

It makes me ill that a company such as this would even allow their lawyers to include KickStarter as a defendant. Why not each individual investor since they should have investigated what they were actually investing in? I would like to say stupid, idiotic etc... But there is no word that encompasses the meaning I have for them.

Defend your patent by all means, if it is legitimate, but why not find an alternate method of having FormLabs cease and desist from whatever area they think they're infringing?

Dr. Veritas
23rd November, 2012 @ 08:12 pm PST

FormLabs would be wise to just publish all aspects and recipes of the design as Open Source. If 3DS want to play dirty against a little guy wanting to put machines in the hands of the masses, the best thing to do is to put the full system design into 1000 hands and heads - the 3DS patents will pale compared to the innovations that could be seeded by complete public disclosure of the Kickstarter machine design.

Feed innovation, not lawyers. Live to fight another day. Meanwhile, poison the well. That's the way I'd play it at this point, if it were me.

solutions4circuits
23rd November, 2012 @ 08:42 pm PST

If you purchased a stolen car from a news paper ad the paper is the selling agent. If law suits cost the paper money you would not find a classified section in any paper. This is similar. The information Kick Start puts on the web site like the classified ad is totally controlled by the placer of the information. Kick Start defines rules and a format. I am sure Kick Start's lawyers looked at this before the site was started. However, Kick Start will have to present themselves to the court which cost money. They will have to go after these costs if they get removed from the suit.

TomS
24th November, 2012 @ 05:25 am PST

Based on their complaint, they don't have any evidence that Formlabs is using their patent. The patent is a software patent anyway, and the Formlabs hardware is useful whether or not they use that technique, so there is no reason they should be able to prevent the printer from shipping. And the patent in question expires in a little over a year anyway.

3D Systems is also misrepresenting their position; they don't have patents on the basic printing process, they only have patents on some small (and fairly obvious) enhancements that are probably easily worked around or challenged.

We've seen this again and again: an aging, inflexible, old-style company has trouble to adapt to falling prices and advances in technology; and when challenged by open source, they flail out of control. To me, it looks like 3D Systems is mostly suing because they hope they can create hassles for Formlabs, not because they have a reasonable case.

No matter what happens to Formlabs, the hardware for building these kinds of printers is so cheap and simple that you're going to see a dozen more of them within a year, many of them in Europe and Asia where the US patent has no force. Good luck trying to sue them all.

tj55
25th November, 2012 @ 12:40 am PST

That's the end of Formlabs for sure, and the end of $1M to $3M in legal fees for Kickstarter as well, if not a billion unless they can prevent it hitting a jury.

Take heed all Americans: do NOT establish your business in America - you are absolutely guaranteeing destruction through trolling if you make even a modicum of successful progress in your business.

Once you're hooked into a patent, you have to follow the patent rules of procedure, which basically spell out 2 years worth of weekly deadlines, each which takes several days of paperwork to complete (by lawyers, at $500/hr, and most of which you're not allowed to see, because as a company, you must hire lawyers, and everything gets designated "attorney eyes only"). The courts are so full of patent suits, that they no longer have time to consider any motions pre-trial (everything just gets ignored), so once you've responded to the complaint, your wallet is in the hands of your lawyer for the next 2 years, and it's not coming back to you until it's $3M lighter... or worse, depending on what the jury decided (which, 78% of the time, isn't in your favor).

The whole "collateral damage" thing is getting worse - more and more suits are naming other related entities (suppliers, ISP's, customers), with great success: it costs $0 more to stick their name on the lawsuit, and it gives the plaintiff an instant $100,000+ settlement advance if they need it before trial, or an extra enormous pool of money to enjoy if they push through to the end.

Lets face it: how stupid would you have to be, to spend $5k to $50k on a patent, if you don't spend the extra $350 to file suit against all your adversaries and push them into annihilation? $350 to cause $3M+ damage to your enemies? It's just good business sense.

We actually need a whole lot more of these things. Until the entire American internet economy is a smoldering wreckage, nobody's going to fix the patent system. Meanwhile, the rest of the planet is going to take the internet away from those who invented it. So much for "greed is good" :-(

christopher
25th November, 2012 @ 06:06 am PST

They need to make their business in China, then we can get our printer.

Elrenuir Tht
25th November, 2012 @ 12:51 pm PST
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