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What’s a 3D Printing revolution if companies go around suing each other for alleged patent infringement? Not much of one at all. This is the sentiment Joshua Harker is passing along in a recent letter to backers. You saw his new Anatomica di Revolutis Kickstarter campaign wherein a video compilation featured the “Top Brass” of the 3D Print industry, including 3D Systems, saying, “Join the Revolution”. Now 3D Systems is out.

Suing != Revolution

3D Systems is suing Formlabs and Kickstarter for the Form 1 3D Printer project. Josh sent out an update on his new project about his discovery of the lawsuit, his struggle and reasoning over the decision to remove 3D Systems from the campaign:

I am not a lawyer & I have no idea what’s happening behind the scenes or of the overall validity of claims for either side. I can only say that my message of revolution is about empowering the individual & the technologies & networks which support that. The inclusion of all the big name players & brightest stars was intended to demonstrate a sense of community in the field.

So, I have decided to remove 3D Systems from my presentation. This is not an attempt to sway opinion or harm them in any way but rather to distance myself from looking like I’m making some kind of endorsement or have an affiliation without knowing all the facts, especially given the context, timing, & place where this is all playing out. With the press release already live I felt the need to leave a statement of reference.

[emphasis in original]

So, 3D Systems is out of the 3D Printing revolution–at least from the indirect, we like the publicity and saying ‘join the revolution’ point-of-view. Good move by Josh? At a time when 3D Printers are coming out left and right, Kickstarter campaigns are likely to spur on lawsuits and lawsuits are likely to spur on innovation to get around the lawsuits. I can’t help but wonder if 3D Systems has injected a small amount of fear into the DIY community. What do you think?

Filed under: FAB

  • Arg, I can’t read the article. Something in an ad is not permitted by my employer, so I have this HUGE “not permitted” popup covering most of the screen where I’m guessing an ad flyout would be…

    EDIT: workaround: copy/paste 😀

  • Josh M

    Not cool! I’ll look into it.

  • It’s a logical move for Josh to drop 3DS from the credits, but it’s also a complex issue. I don’t think we can necessarily name 3DS as “bad” for going about business as usual. While I’m not a proponent of the patent system, it’s something that will require a great deal of work to reform. In the meantime, it’s what we’ve got, and companies will use for their own business advantage.

    Legal action is inevitable. 3DS just made it a reality, which is, in the end, a good thing. What can small businesses and individuals do to minimize risk? Does a creative commons license change anything when it comes to patent infringement?

  • Josh M

    Great questions David. There’s likely much more to this whole 3DS/Formlabs story. I would hope there were, at the least, some discussion, instead of, “Hey, they’re being successful, sue’em.”

    3DS does have much to be thanked for. I think a different dynamic could be created in the industry with them supporting small businesses and independent developers, whether by putting stakes in them or doing so to simply encouraging the development.

  • That’d be cool! Can you give an example of that sort of industry partnership?

    And, yeah, 3DS has done a lot! I wish we could all just forget about patents and try to out-innovate each other…

  • Josh M

    I’d say Makerbot and Ponoko do a lot in this regard. They definitely have interests they want to protect, but I’m continually amazed at the projects they post on the blog and how supportive of the technologies they are in general.

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  • Note: my response is biased.

    I once worked for a Zcorp. reseller which also means I worked for 3DS for a short stint. I’m actually worried about innovation in the industry. When I started working, there were 4 companies. Now 2, due to acquisitions (Stratysis – Objet & 3DS – Zcorp.). 3DS seems to think innovation is in acquisitions, to the tune of ~1 biz/qtr since 2010. Now that both companies are public, that often means that investor value and protection holds higher interest. I honestly think the industry is not mature enough for this type of stifling business strategy.

  • I started doing some research–the acquisition history of 3DS is remarkable! That’s not a sustainable way to grow a business, so perhaps they’ll fall victim to their own mismanagement and reconsider their strategy…

  • Cool, thanks!

    That type of support makes sense–we’re all in this together. 3DS, too, has SO much to gain from the press and excitement from the community at large. It seems like that’s the business case against litigation and for a more cooperative strategy. I suppose it’s not too late to settle things outside of court…

  • Wow- I’ve gotten a lot of emails about this since I posted my decision to remove 3DS from my presentation. For the record, Formlabs was asked to participate as well but having just completed their campaign days before, I was understandably not a high priority. Officially, I am not against 3D Systems protecting what’s legally theirs. That said, I am passionately for innovation & see current patent laws as an obstacle in this new era of technology & networks. Regardless, if Formlabs ripped 3DS off then they’re gonna have to deal with it. If not… well you can fill in the blanks & paint your own picture of what’s going on, you don’t need my insight or opinion on the matter. As for Kickstarter getting pulled into this I actually think this may be a good thing in that it was bound to happen sooner or later. They’ve got the resources to go toe to toe & set the legal precedent for how they operate into the future. We’ll see how this all plays out. I did what I did to clarify my position of neutrality. I found it exceptionally uncomfortable to be running a campaign on a platform that I wholeheartedly support that is being sued by a participant in my project, as well as the conflict it presented with my message. None of this was evident to me when I asked for participation. I also did not want to sweep it under the rug without stating my reasoning or act like I was oblivious. There really wasn’t a win/win option in all of this for me. I’m sure 3DS could give a **** about me in the grand scheme of things… that’s part of the problem in my book.

  • Thanks for jumping into the conversation Josh 🙂 good to see your perspective.

    I think you did the right thing. Tough position to be in, but it’s a fair and logical move to do what you did.

    It never made much sense from a PR move, what 3DS did. From a patent perspective, yeah. But it doesn’t make 3DS look great at all.

    Just to compare. Stratasys invented FDM (extrusion-based printing). Their patents on that tech have expired, which gave Reprap and Makerbot the opportunity to try their hand. And then suddenly everyone and their Dog was kickstarting their own variety of FDM 3D Printing products. There are a lot of related patents to FDM that Stratasys still has in its patent portfolio. They didn’t litigate, thinking that it would be 1) expensive 2) bad PR 3) bad business. Instead, they teamed up with Objet and expanded their product portfolio, avoiding the pitfalls of being attached to a single technology that would SINK them rather than worth protecting. FDM is alright, but we know that Objet’s stuff is waaay better.

    Stereolithography is alright, but not great. SLS and powder-based printing is much better. I still have no clue why 3DS decided to go after Formlabs. They should have just said ‘whatever, we can’t stop this let’s out-innovate them’. If Formlabs can sell a quality SLA printer at that price, im SURE that 3DS could do better.

    I bet 3DS has seen your boycott (and the related media) and they’re listening. Stratasys is probably breathing a sigh of relief because they didnt do the same thing with Makerbot, for example. They have zero distractions from dominating the market and can count on having a more positive consumer identification.

  • viva la making

    More potent than fears can be an awareness of relevant legal considerations and obligations as well as rights. Fortunately for this revolution, knowledge is Maker-friendly. It doesn’t hurt to look at positive relationships and ways to engage consensus-building rapport when possible. The open source movement continues in spirit even in hardware. This will be an acculturation for some as our “take and take” species becomes a diverse amalgam of “give passionately and take as needed.” Sorry to hear that Joshua Harker was put in such a peculiar position, but I imagine the general idea is that everyone’s appreciative of his efforts.

  • viva la making

    There are a lot of government grants and programs out there right now. Many research facilities and demonstrations facilities just in the United States accept proposals, you keep your work but if it looks promising to the job market and you put in your own blood, sweat and tears they just basically throw you money and ridiculously smart experts with absurdly advanced equipment. It’s not only easier to shift to a more advanced and focused technology, it’s more profitable. Not a huge secret if you’ve been attending the conferences! And you have!

  • viva la editing

    Sorry, that was directed at 3DS. Great article.