Even more 3D Systems news today! Perhaps this was inevitable, but 3D printing giant 3D Systems has filed lawsuits against Kickstarter-fueled Formlabs, who recently closed a USD$3M campaign to raise funds to produce their new resin-based personal 3D printer.
Resin-based 3D printing, also known as Stereolithography, was invented by 3D Systems' founder, Chuck Hull in the 1980's. Accordingly, 3D Systems owns a number of stereolithography patents, some of which are still in force.
While some patents have might have expired, a stereolithography 3D printer has many different internal processes, all of which may have been patented. It's quite possible that Formlabs missed one or more of them and could be caught in a legal dilemma. According to 3D Systems' legal counsel, Andrew Johnson:
Although Formlabs has publicly stated that certain patents have expired, 3D Systems believes the Form 1 3D printer infringes at least one of our patents, and we intend to enforce our patent rights.
It may be that 3D Systems is seen as "the bad guy" in this situation, but remember that if they do not protect this patent, then anyone else will be free to use it and suddenly the patent becomes worthless, even though it's still active.
Meanwhile Formlabs has suddenly opened up general pre-order of their machine for those who missed out on their Kickstarter campaign.
What's next? We expect back room negotiations between the two parties. 3D Systems may demand a royalty payment for use of the patent, ask them to shut down operations (which would be perhaps the biggest donation return in Kickstarter history) or just maybe Formlabs might be absorbed into the 3D Systems family.
3D Systems has been known to acquire companies. Often.
Via 3D Systems