Doom for 3D Printer Manufacturers? AFINA Loses Battle With Stratasys

Stratasys announced the outcome of their lawsuit with Afina regarding patent infringement, and they say it's not good for Afinia, or possibly others. 

We’ve covered this legal battle since 2013, when Stratasys launched a suit against Afinia, who Stratasys claimed infringed on several of their patented plastic extrusion 3D printing processes. In particular, they made four claims of infringement, which we examined here

Subsequently, one of the patent claims was dropped by Stratasys, but three claims of infringement remained: 

  • U.S. Patent No. 5,866,058 “METHOD FOR RAPID PROTOTYPING OF SOLID MODELS”. 
  • U.S. Patent No. 6,004,124 “THIN-WALL TUBE LIQUIFIER”.
  • U.S. Patent No. 8,349,239 “SEAM CONCEALMENT FOR THREE-DIMENSIONAL MODELS”.  

Specifically, Afinia had requested the the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board invalidate the patents in question based on prior art, but this board officially denied Afinia’s claims, as they felt Afinia “has not demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of prevailing.” 

Meanwhile, officials at Afinia state:

Afinia announces today that it will continue to defend the litigation commenced by Stratasys, Inc. Afinia maintains that it does not infringe the asserted patents and maintains the patents are invalid based on prior art Stratasys products that could not be the subject of an Inter Partes Review.

So it's clear Afinia does not consider this case closed yet. 

What does all this mean? We believe that, barring further moves from Afinia, this means they could potentially be infringing on three Stratasys patents. As such, Stratasys could theoretically choose to take several actions against the company, which might include requesting a licensing fee for using their intellectual property. 

If things get that far, we have no idea what such a licensing fee could be, but if it was substantial, it could potentially cause Afinia to raise the price of their equipment, change the hardware in some way, withdraw the infringing products entirely, or even do nothing at all. 

Licensing fees would be determined by private negotiations between the parties, so we may not ever know the details. 

What’s more interesting is what happens after the negotiations, if that happens. At that point, Stratasys would have established a legal ruling and licensing precedent for use of these patents by competing 3D printer manufacturers. Stratasys could, theoretically, then approach any other manufacturer they feel infringes these same patents and demand the same or similar licensing fees. 

We could see three effects here: first, certain existing manufacturers may have to pay these licensing fees and that may cause them to again, raise prices, change equipment design or even withdraw from the market. Or face lawsuits. 

A second effect could be on new entrants, of which new parties appear each week with a new variation on 3D printing using plastic extrusion techniques that may indeed infringe on the same patents. Some of these new entrants may be discouraged by potential licensing fees and choose not to pursue their 3D printing manufacturing dreams. 

Finally, 3D printer manufacturers outside the USA wishing to enter that market may have to adjust their plans, as their equipment may be deemed infringing. 

But we're getting way ahead of ourselves here. The case, according to Afinia, is not yet done. More to come here, folks. 

Via Stratasys

General Fabb

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has been writing Fabbaloo posts since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!

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