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Patent suit targets Formlabs and Kickstarter

3D Systems lays out claim over stereolithography

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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.

Its complaint also cites a handful of news articles, including at Solidsmack and TechCrunch, to suggest that Formlabs has been lax in its patent searches. ®

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