Government Contracting Venture Rips Off an Open Source 3D Printer Design

By on June 28th, 2022 in Corporate, news

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The Hangprinter team [Source: Hangprinter / GoFundMe]

The Hangprinter project seems to have been ripped off by a U.S. government contractor.

Hangprinter is an open source 3D printer design that emerged in 2017. It’s a very unusual concept that involves a toolhead that’s suspended from cables, rather than using rigid components, hence the name “Hangprinter”.

We published a story on the project back in 2017, when the project was launched by Swedish maker Torbjørn Ludvigsen (a.k.a. “Tobben”). The design is basically a RepRap variant with a way to accommodate the cable motion system, and it works well to produce larger objects.

Now we find out that this design has been patented by an organization in the United States.

Suspiciously identical cable design to Hangprinter in a patent [Source: Google Patents]

According to a report on TechDirt, patent US11230032B2, “Cable-driven additive manufacturing system”, has just been awarded to UT Battelle LLC. This patent filing actually cites several sources mentioning Hangprinter, in particular its Wikipedia entry.

Who is “UT Battelle LLC”, anyway?

They are a joint venture between the Battelle Institute and the University of Tennessee that was formed to operate the Oak Ridge National Laboratory through funding from the U.S. government. In other words, a government contractor.

The implication is that going forward anyone attempting to commercialize the Hangprinter concept would infringe on UT Battelle’s patent, including the developers of Hangprinter themselves!

How could this possibly happen, you might ask?

There’s a couple of things going on here.

First, the U.S. patent system was changed a few years ago to award patents to the “first to file a patent” instead of the traditional “first to invent”. This epically strange move by the USPTO has enabled this group to patent the concept, because open source projects don’t file patents by definition.

The second thing to note is that a patent filer need only “improve” a design slightly to qualify for an original patent award. This is most likely what has been done by UT Battelle LLC.

The Hangprinter team is unsurprisingly not happy, and intends on challenging this patent award in court. This move will take a considerable amount of money to execute, with no guarantee of success. Nevertheless, it would be a good idea to set a precedent that open source projects should not be co-opted by commercial interests, as that goes against the entire concept of open source.

Would anyone work on an open source project if they knew all their work could be simply absorbed by a big corporate entity anytime they wanted? If no one worked on open source projects, then where would the world be? A major portion of today’s economy actually runs on open source products of one kind or another.

The Hangprinter team has set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for the legal move. They hope to raise kr600,000 (US$60,000) and they’re about a third of the way there as of this writing. I’m hoping they collect enough donations to mount a proper legal action against this patent.

Fabbaloo readers should consider contributing to the fund.

Via Hangprinter, TechDirt, GoFundMe and Google Patents

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!

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