Makers of a 3D laser printer and the online company that helped them look for investors are being sued by California’s 3D Systems. The West Coast’s high-end printer business claims Formlabs, a business staffed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, and its promoter Kickstarter violated intellectual property laws.
3D Systems filed an infringement lawsuit that accuses Formlabs of the illegal use of one of its printer patents. Kickstarter was pulled in as a defendant because the venture capital website took a percentage of the nearly $3 million to build the Formlabs Form 1 printer.
The California printer manufacturer, like Formlabs, uses a method called stereolithography in the printing process. The process depends upon the interaction of a laser and liquid to create a layered 3D version of an object from a computer file.
Stereolithography has been available for decades. Since the method’s inception, 3D Systems said it detected and fixed a problem with the process. A patented solution, awarded to 3D in 1997, strengthened the laser-fed layers created during the object making process. The results of the 3D improvement to the process boosted the look and accuracy of file-to-reality objects.
Formlabs found 2,000 Kickstarter users to invest in a high-definition printer that was billed as “worlds ahead” of standard printers at a rock-bottom price. The MIT researchers promised the Form 1 printer would not depend upon squeezed plastic layers used in cheaper stereolithography processes. To encourage financial support, Formlabs offered printers to every investor who contributed at least $2,299 to the building project.
In its court filing, 3D systems claimed Formlabs knew or should have learned that the 3D held multiple patents in stereolithography processing. Formlabs researchers on two, online tech sites hinted that researchers at MIT might have known about 3D’s printer patents. Separate Formlabs sources talked about the ability to make low-cost, high-tech printers because of patent expirations.
Legal teams help businesses like 3D Systems defend the uniqueness of technology products, processes and patents.
Source: bbc.co.uk, “Kickstarter sued over 3D Systems’ printer patent,” Nov. 21, 2012