3D Systems, the biggest and oldest 3D printing company in the World has filed litigation against Formlabs and their Form 1 printer. The infringement stems from one of 3D System’s stereolithography patents, a technique that uses a UV laser to selectively bind a vat of photoresin into a solid object. Not only that, Kickstarter is also targeted in the litigation, for aiding Formlabs in raising $2.95 million last October.

When the Suits Coming Marching In…

General Counsel for 3D Systems Andrew Johnson had this to say:

3D Systems invented and pioneered the 3D printing technology of stereolithography and has many active patents covering various aspects of the stereolithography process. 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.

This was to be expected. A lot of people in the community were surprised that Formlabs would try to use a technique that was clearly 3D System’s bread and butter. Although the original patents had expired, yet there are plenty of other related patents and techniques surrounding the technology. Take a look at the 8,000+ patents under their name here.¬†Design patents are one thing, technical patents are another.

The part I can’t believe is that Kickstarter is also named in the suit. Details are murky, but one would expect it because Kickstarter made money from the campaign as well. This puts Kickstarter in a very bad position where they may have to vet projects even more closely, complete with patent lawyers vetoing campaigns before they get out the door.

…oh Lord, what is that Patent Number?

I’ve seen the Form 1 multiple times, talked to the representatives there and asked about this issue. Basically, they said the Form 1 uses expired patents. One was unaware that there could be an issue, which is pretty interesting. I don’t like the patent system that much – 3D Systems is a big company and day-by-day are becoming the complete anti-thesis of what the 3D Printing revolution stands for. It’s fair to suggest that they ought to protect their hard earned investment. But the basic patent of stereolithography died years ago. Maybe let this one go. Look at Stratasys – they invented FDM, the preferred method of RepRap, Makerbot and everyone else. And have they been chasing people down? No, actually.

Chill 3D Systems. Innovate, don’t sue. You can afford it.

Tank/copyright image: Andrew B. Myers