Patent suit targets Formlabs and Kickstarter
3D Systems lays out claim over stereolithography
As the world turns increasingly into one in which nobody can do anything without being sued by someone, 3D Systems is suing Formlabs and Kickstarter over alleged patent infringement covering 3D printing.
Formlabs had pimped its project on Kickstarter, raising nearly $US3 million towards its aim of developing a low-cost 3D printer. Founded by MIT MediaLab researchers, the project’s explicit aim is to “disrupt” the world of 3D printing.
It’s certainly disrupted 3D Systems, which has filed a complaint in the US District Court of South Carolina. 3D Systems alleges that Formlabs’ stereolithographic 3D printing techniques violate its patents, including “U.S. Patent No. 5,597,520 covering improved methods of stereolithographically forming a three-dimensional object by forming cross-sectional layers of an object from a material capable of physical transformation upon exposure to synergistic stimulation”.
Kickstarter has been dragged into the complaint as the vehicle by which Formlabs plans to sell its printer.
Stereolithography uses a UV laser to solidify layers of resin – a common additive manufacturing technique. According to the BBC, the 3D Systems patent solved a particular problem in stereolithographic printing: how to deal with the problem of layers that failed to solidify.
The company says Formlabs’ infringement is in its “offering a 3D printer using specific stereolithography curing technology that can produce parts by delaying the curing of at least portions of some cross-sections until subsequent layers are formed and when sufficient exposure can be applied to achieve the desired depth of cure” – something that 3D Systems owns via its “520” patent.
The patent 5,597,520 (at least partially) expired in 2010
The patent at issue was partially complete and filed in 1990 and therefor expired at least in part in 2010. Other parts expire in 2013. Formlabs certainly has only the most modest of sales now (one presumes) and had none at all in 2010.
Such a suit at best can collect damages based on lost revenues etc. Hard to see much damages.
I certainly believe 3D has done the world a service working in the late 80's on 3D printing issues when much of the crew at Formlabs were still in diapers still there is little here and 3D should not waste many hundreds of thousands of dollars to chase an empty cup.
In two years their patent 5,597,520 will be completely in the public domain.
For the same reason Formlabs should avoid paying lawyers and just make a deal that provides something to 3D for the max time they have left. Understanding that the time depends on exactly what is infringing and which of the continuations it became part of the patent. Could be anything from 0 to 2 years but not more.
There is one possible nasty bug in ointment Dennis R. Smalley put himnself as principal inventor and as PATENT COUNSEL!
This could mean he is a great genius or that Formlabs was so poor he had to do the patent attorney duty or (God save Formlabs) he could be an ego maniacal Lawyer who intrudes on the engineers domain and uber pugnacious... a schmuck who must win at all cost and one who has no cost of suit to moderate the choices of 3D's governing counsel.
I certainly could find out more about Smalley and maybe even offer a work around to Formlabs but I've got to focus on the paying tasks. Hopefully this will help.
Kickstarter probably won't be on the hook
The usual mode of operations in lawsuits is to fire them scattershot (the way the world is now I'm surprised that they aren't suing every individual user who contributed), even if most of the parties have no actual liability and will be dismissed with a simple response from a lawyer. It just sucks that they have to pay for one for no fault of their own.
Kickstarter has no responsibility to vet a project, only to stop selling it if forced by court order or agreement, so they're probably only named in order to pressure them into settling or so the court has jurisdiction over them. Clawing back a retailer's margin is significantly more difficult than infringing manufacturer's revenue, though the finer points of procedure escape me now.
Hmm, the patent doesn't appear to be generic, and just because someone wants to bring something to a wider populace, doesn't make patent infringement OK.