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Questionable Patents From MakerBot 56

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-should-play-nice-with-others dept.
An anonymous reader writes "OpenBeam USA is a Kickstarted company that builds open source aluminum construction systems (think high-quality erector sets). One of the main uses for the systems is building 3D printers, and creator Terence Tam is heavily involved in the 3D-printing community. He's now put up a blog post about some disturbing patents filed by MakerBot. In particular, he notes a patent for auto-leveling on a 3D printer. Not only is this an important upcoming technology for 3D printers, the restriction of which would be a huge blow to progress, it seems the patent was filed just a few short weeks after Steve Graber posted a video demonstrating such auto-leveling. There had also been a Kickstarter campaign for similar tech a few months earlier. Tam gives this warning: 'Considering the Stratasys — Afinia lawsuit, and the fact that Makerbot is now a subsidiary of Stratasys, it's not a stretch to imagine Makerbot coming after other open source 3D manufacturers that threaten their sales. After all, nobody acquires a patent warchest just to invite their competitors to sit around the campfire to sing Kumbaya. It is therefore vitally important that community developed improvements do not fall under Makerbot's (or any other company's) patent portfolio to be used at a later date to clobber the little guys.'"
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Questionable Patents From MakerBot

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  • by Thantik (1207112) on Friday May 23, 2014 @06:10PM (#47079237)
    Here's an article written by MakerBot themselves praising the author of an extruder drive design: http://www.makerbot.com/blog/2... [makerbot.com] and admitting that it was made by someone else...

    And here they are, attempting to patent said extruder drive design: http://www.freepatentsonline.c... [freepatentsonline.com]

    They're taking things from the open source RepRap community and attempting to patent them. Do not support MakerBot. Do not buy their machines. And advise everyone you know not to purchase their machines should they be considering it.

  • by spiritplumber (1944222) on Friday May 23, 2014 @06:20PM (#47079311)
    http://hackaday.com/2012/04/23... [hackaday.com] This has been published April 2012, the provisional patent is from October 2012, so Makerbot wasted some time and money, by the look of it.
  • by Thantik (1207112) on Friday May 23, 2014 @06:27PM (#47079349)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F... [wikipedia.org] might be worth a read for you. With the USA no longer being on a "First to Invent" system, and instead "First Inventor to File" means that MakerBot is likely looking to use this change in order to snatch up inventions from the open source community as their own.
  • by MoFoQ (584566) on Friday May 23, 2014 @07:20PM (#47079837)

    The author of original article/blog mentions towards the end that he submitted 3 prior arts to USPTO.

  • by greenbird (859670) on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:04PM (#47080171)

    wouldn't a video demonstrating the tech published weeks before the patent was filed constitute prior art, rendering the patent non-novel and invalid?

    You obviously don't understand the US patent system. The patent office basically rubber stamps patents (often helping the submitter reword things so they can pass it). The patent holder then uses it to shake down companies for money and/or destroy competition. Prior art or the validity of the patent is pretty much irrelevant when the system is stacked such that the cost to fight an invalid patent is outrageously expensive and completely unrecoverable. It has absolutely nothing to do with protecting inventors or, heaven forbid, promoting the progress of science and useful arts. It's all about destroying competition or making easy money for patent attorneys and their ilk.

  • by Terence Tam (3665009) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:07AM (#47081277)
    TL;DR: If you care about open source hardware development, share early and share frequently so that we can establish a public record of prior art, should this come up again. I"m the owner of OpenBeamUSA and the author of the blog post. Yes, you are correct, a provisional patent was filed a year prior to the Oct 29th, 2013 filing date that is on file with the USPTO. However, (and please correct me if I am wrong on this - I am not a patent lawyer) it is my understanding that for the claims to be valid to the Oct 2012 date, they have to be present in the 2012 patent. Companies patenting things normally file a "junk" patent to hold their place in line, where they make one or two very basic claim about their products. Then in the course of the year, they pile in the rest of the claims and flesh it out. Only the claims that are supported by the 2012 provisional patent filing dates can be backdated to the 2012 priority date. In other words, if I claimed that I invented a computer controlled hot glue gun (my newbie friendly explanation of what a 3D Printer is) on Oct 2012 but added in Oct 2013 that my claim involves putting a switch on the glue gun head, the 2013 date is what the patent examiner would go by when examining prior art. Without being able to see what was filed in Oct 2012, it is not 100% clear whether Mr. Graber's video constitutes as prior art. My guess though, is that Makerbot did not actually have everything fleshed out in October of 2012. Given that in March of 2013, they are still relying on their community for improvement ideas: http://www.makerbot.com/blog/2... [makerbot.com] - which is now subjected to scrutiny due to another one of their patents: http://www.freepatentsonline.c... [freepatentsonline.com] (The alternative explanation is that they actually did have their stuff together to file patents on the new extruder design, but intentionally shipped a substandard product leaving the community to fix it. Neither scenario paints them in a good light.) This one is going to be interesting to watch. While the US moved from first to invent to first to file during the time this patent was in provisional patent status, prior art invalidates both first to invent and first to file. The real question is can they find a way around all this prior art claim, when one of Makerbot's founder (Zack) was an active contributor to the reprap project. My guess is that the IP is sufficiently tainted that it would be very hard to find a path forward that has no prior art. While the legitimacy of the prior art I've sited is being questioned, my real objectives are: A) To encourage other Open Source Hardware developers to keep sharing, early and often to establish prior art in a public way, and B) Raise awareness that Makerbot is trying to patent ideas that originated from within the Reprap community, and to show how we can work within the USPTO's system to challenge said patents. This way people who are more knowledgeable than I can step forward and fight this. And given that there's a bunch of people now posting various examples of automated bed levelling dating back to 2008, I've seemed to have done my job to get the ball rolling. -=- Terence

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