Which 3D Print Company Has The Most Patents?

By on June 27th, 2022 in Corporate, news

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Diagram from Scott Crump’s original 3D printing patent [Source: Google Patents]

I was curious about the quantity of patents held by several 3D print companies, and decided to investigate.

Patents are legal mechanisms that allow a company to use a “method” exclusively for a limited time, which is typically 20 years. Often new innovations are created that, once protected by a patent, allow the inventor time and space to build a business around a new method.

Or that’s the intent. The reality is a bit different, where today’s existing companies tend to continually patent new methods, even if they aren’t ever intended on being used. This is done to block competitors and generally build an arsenal of legal assets for future use.

I did a very quick survey of selected 3D print companies to see what I could find regarding the amount of patents assigned to each.

However, I quickly realized this was not as easy as expected. There are a ton of issues, including:

  • Some big conglomerates, like HP, GE, BASF or Ricoh, have billions of patents related to other technologies and it’s impossible to separate them to identify the 3D print-related patents
  • Some companies, like Hitachi, hold many 3D print patents but they aren’t even in that business
  • Patents are issued by country, and so we can find a single method having multiple patents in several jurisdictions: one method equals many patents
  • Some older patents are actually expired. They are still in the databases, but cannot be enforced, and still belong to the owners, raising their totals
  • Some companies have a hierarchy of corporate structure, where the patents are held elsewhere and not necessarily by the visible company; they are licensed intra-corporately for tax reasons and we don’t know how to find that company publicly
  • Some companies have undergone mergers and acquisitions, and a patent being used by company A might be assigned to company B, which company A acquired 18 years ago, so it’s near impossible to keep track of all of them

You can see this is not necessarily an exact science.

Nevertheless, I drove ahead, selecting 93 likely suspects and obviously missing some others. I used the list of publicly traded companies we follow weekly in our “Who’s the Biggest” series, and added a bunch more. My search system provided me with counts of patents and even access to the patents, but as there are over 721,000 patents on this rough list, I wasn’t about to look at them all. But if you’d like to yourself, by all means proceed.

Here’s the sorted list:

COMPANYPATENTS
BASF537501
Arkema49557
Covestro33589
Trumpf32621
HP15262
Renishaw12925
EOS6940
Stratasys5039
3D systems4786
Hoganas3962
XYZprinting3234
voxeljet1965
Materialise1881
Jabil1604
SLM Solutions1447
ExOne1424
Carbon963
EnvisionTEC409
XJET390
Desktop Metal367
Markforged358
AddUp358
Shining 3D351
Farsoon332
Formlabs306
Thermwood Corporation303
Aurora Labs226
Optomec221
Velo3d200
Digital Metal188
AMT177
Impossible Objects165
Creality164
Massivit152
Sindoh151
Anycubic146
6K Additive128
Sintratec127
Nano Dimension123
DyeMansion109
Essentium103
Nexa3D97
Prodways94
Flashforge89
Shapeways74
Inkbit69
BigRep67
Sigma Labs55
Lithoz55
Freemelt41
3DGence36
Fathom35
Mosaic Manufacturing31
PostProcess Technologies21
Meltio / Additech17
INTAMSYS17
Formalloy17
Xact Metal10
Roboze10
Xometry9
E3D9
3D Platform8
Dyze Design8
AML3D7
Tethon 3D7
Sinterit7
Protolabs6
MeaTech 3D5
Raise3D4
nTopology3
Fusion32
Fortify2
Castor Technologies2
Getech2
Polymaker1
Colorfabb1
AON3D1
JuggerBot 3D1
MX3D1
Fast Radius0
Sygnis SA0
Tinkerine0
Prusa Research0
Spee3D0
Boston Microfabrication0
3DXtech0
3YOURMIND0
Open Additive0
BCN3D0
Trilab0
3D Control Systems0
Ulendo0
WASP Srl0
Not-quite-accurate count of patents held by 3D print companies [Source: Fabbaloo]

Now let’s make some general observations, which is about all you can get from a messed up list such as this one.

First, there are a number of companies with few or even zero patents, at least as far as I could find. Perhaps I wasn’t looking in the right place, or using the assigned company name properly, so their count may be incorrect.

There are a few startup companies in that section and their few patents align with their key innovations. This makes sense, as this follows the original intent of patents to provide a means for the inventor.

Some companies that espouse the use of open source tools tend to have few or zero patents as well, which makes sense.

Topping the list were the several chemical companies I thought worthy of investigation. They alone comprise 86% of the total patents. There massive totals are most likely due to the patenting of individual chemical formulas for their countless products.

Below those at the top are a group of companies that, as I mentioned above, are involved in other technologies and have been around a while. Trumpf, HP and Renishaw are involved in multiple other technologies in addition to 3D printing. Further down, Hoganas could also be considered part of that group. On the other hand, Sindoh, a huge South Korean operation with multiple lines of business, apparently has relatively few patents assigned.

The interesting bits appear next on the list. EOS, Stratasys and 3D Systems are probably the “top” group when considering 3D print-related patents. This, in retrospect, is no surprise as they are also the oldest companies involved in the technology. They’ve had more time than most to develop patents, and apparently have been doing so for decades.

Most of the manufacturing companies we track because of their 3D print use appear somewhat lower on the list, and this is likely because they purchase technologies and use them, they don’t develop patentable technology themselves nearly as much. The exception might be Jabil, which has a strong count, suggesting they must be doing different things than their competitors.

Another group of relatively recent 3D print companies holds a middle ranking on the list, including companies like Carbon, Desktop Metal, XJET, Markforged, etc. I see these as similar to the top group, except that they haven’t been around as long and therefore haven’t produced as many patents.

XYZprinting has a surprising number of patents, far larger than I would have expected. While they are a subsidiary of Kinpo Group, a huge conglomerate, these patents are specifically assigned to XYZprinting and therefore are likely to be 3D print related.

What conclusions can we draw from this inaccurate but possibly representative list? I think there are two things to note.

First, it seems that in general, the older the company, the more patents they have. 3D print companies apparently tend to generate patents on a regular basis throughout their existence, not just when they launch. This is no doubt because they wish to mitigate the eventual expiry of their original patents by replacing them with younger patents that last a few more years.

Secondly, there are an awful lot of 3D print patents assigned. If we subtract out the chemical companies from the total, we still have a ridiculous 100,000 patents assigned.

Think about this: there are apparently at least 100,000 unique methods related to 3D printing. Can you list them? Can you list a dozen? What are all these methods? Surely some must overlap? How could a potential new invention be certified that it’s truly new? Would you have to look through 100,000 other patents?

Yes, you would. That’s why I suspect most don’t look through them and simply deal with conflicts later.

The clear and easy days of the initial 3D print patents are long since passed, and today it’s now an ocean of subtlety different methods that are of inconceivable number. Welcome to today’s 3D print patent world!

As for answering the question, which 3D print company really does have the most patents? I really don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else does, either.

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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