Think You Can Keep Up With 3D Print Patents? Think Again

By on March 23rd, 2017 in Ideas


 A classic patent; today's patents are far more complex
A classic patent; today’s patents are far more complex

There’s a lot more going on in 3D printing than anyone would suspect. 

Certainly one can see the more visible developments, such as weekly Kickstarter projects, corporate announcements and the like. But behind the scenes there are big things happening, as researchers, engineers and others are frantically developing all manner of things for potential use in the future. 

One way to get a glimpse of the activity is to observe the patents related to 3D printing. 

I’ve selected a list of some recent patents and invite you to skim through them and then read the punch line below. 

  • Network Portal for 3D Printable Structures
  • A Method for Producing a Customised Orthopaedic Implant
  • Method of Making Cermet or Cemented Carbide Powder
  • Additive Manufactured Items With Flame Resistance, Process for Making and Process for Testing Their Flame Performance
  • Selectively Openable Support Platen for Additive Manufacturing
  • Additive Manufacturing of Functionally Gradient Degradable Tools
  • Electrospinning With Sacrificial Template for Patterning Fibrous Constructs
  • Line Ink Jet Head Washing Apparatus, Washing Method, and Washing Program
  • Systems and Methods for Processing Orders for Structural Designs
  • Modelling Method and System
  • Powder Delivery for Additive Manufacturing
  • Array of Printhead Modules for Additive Manufacturing System
  • Systems and Methods for Laser Preheating in Connection With Fused Deposition Modeling
  • Compositions for the Production of Objects Using Additive Manufacturing
  • Cranial Remoulding Orthosis and Method of Manufacture Thereof
  • Geometric Sound Absorption via Additive Manufacturing
  • Adjustable Z-Axis Printhead Module for Additive Manufacturing System
  • Composition of Orthopedic Knee Implant and the Method for Manufacture Thereof
  • Compressor Variable Vane Assembly
  • Brace Structures for Additive Manufacturing
  • Additive Manufactured Thermoplastic-Aluminum Nanocomposite Hybrid Rocket Fuel Grain and Method of Manufacturing Same
  • Epoxy Dual Cure Resins for Additive Manufacturing
  • Systems and Methods for Thermal Cycle Control in Additive Manufacturing Environments
  • Composite Materials and Machines and Methods to Produce Same
  • Additive Manufacturing of Functionally Gradient Degradable Tools
  • Device for the Generative Manufacturing of Three-Dimensional Components
  • Systems and Methods for Processing Orders for Structural Designs
  • Multi-Tool Manufacturing System
  • Engineering-Grade Consumable Materials for Electrophotography-Based Additive Manufacturing System
  • Exothermic Powders for Additive Manufacturing
  • Fabrication of Base Plate, Fabrication of Enclosure, and Fabrication of Support Posts in Additive Manufacturing
  • 3D Printing Portal for Crowd-Sourced Designs
  • Multi-Orifice Deposition Nozzle for Additive Manufacturing
  • Printhead Module for Additive Manufacturing System
  • Systems and Methods for Managing Distributed 3d Printed Structures
  • Heat Transfer in Magnetic Assemblies

There are some very intriguing titles to their patents, would you not agree? 

But here’s the punch line: these 36 patents were awarded IN ONE SINGLE DAY last week!

At that rate, one would expect to see over 10,000 3D print-related patents in a year. Actually, it’s likely more as I searched only for “Additive Manufacturing”; there are most certainly other related patents that don’t happen to mention those keywords. 

I don’t know how many 3D printing patents exist, but there must be tens of thousands, each describing some unique aspect to the process. For a new 3D printing company attempting to open up a new business, the odds are strongly increasing that whatever they are doing, they may be violating someone’s patent. Or several. 

It gets worse for new companies. Of the 36 awarded on that particular day, it seems that eight of them, about a quarter of them, were owned by a mysterious company named “Scatterday-Conklin”. 

What is Scatterday-Conklin? I don’t know. I could find almost no information about them, other than they were formed in 1995, have an office in Phoenix AZ and hold quite a few patents, mainly related to various types of machine tools, including 3D printers it seems. 

I get nervous when I see a company collecting patents but not having a visible business operation. That may be a hint that this organization could be what’s known as a “patent troll”, a company that owns patents but uses them only as legal vehicles to sue others who stumble on their patented processes. 

On the other hand, there may be a perfectly legitimate reason for their interest in 3D printing processes and other manufacturing technologies. I just can’t find what it might be, and wonder if any readers have further information. 

The presence of so many patents could be very bad news for future 3D printer companies that grow over time. When they are large and flush with cash, they might get a letter from a patent owner demanding royalty payments. 

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo 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!