Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter


Forgot your password?
Hardware Hacking Patents Printer Build Hardware Technology

The Patents That Threaten 3-D Printing 134

An anonymous reader writes "We've watched patents slow down the smartphone and tablet markets. We've seen patent claims thrown against Linux, Android, and countless other software projects. Now, as 3-D printing becomes more capable and more affordable, it seems a number of patents threaten to do the same to the hobbyist and tinkerer crowd. Wired has highlighted some of the most dangerous ones, including: a patent on soluble print materials that support a structure while it's being printed; a ridiculously broad patent on distributed rapid prototyping, which could affect "every 3-D printing service that has launched in the past few years"; and an 18-year-old patent on 3-D printing using a powder and a binding material, held by MIT."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Patents That Threaten 3-D Printing

Comments Filter:
  • by FluffyWithTeeth ( 890188 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @06:28AM (#42954133)

    They're not about helping the world. They're about protecting the rights of inventors, rather than having large companies steal their work and reproduce it in a manner they can't compete with.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @06:35AM (#42954161)

    "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:14AM (#42954317)

    Patents are only applicable if you intend to commercialize the machine/invention. i.e. they regulate business only.
    For other purposes patents are free to use. You can build literally every invention in the patent office without permission.

  • by fantomas ( 94850 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:26AM (#42954359)

    "No, because China only copies others..... There just won't be much innovation."

    Wasn't this the claim made about Japan in USA and Europe in the 1950s and 1960s? that they just produced inferior copies of Western goods and competed by selling poorer quality copies at cheaper prices? e.g. in the camera and automotive industries?

    The counter argument was that they learnt production methods and began to understand the desires of the USA/European market and then went on to improve quality and offer innovations, while Western companies were complacent and said "we know what our people want, we'll continue to make the same kind of autos / cameras etc.". I'd be interested in opinions from Detroit for example ("Motor City").

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:46AM (#42954431)

    True. E.g. in the UK, PA77 Section 60(5)a:

    (5) An act which, apart from this subsection, would constitute an infringement of a patent for an invention shall not do so if -
            (a) it is done privately and for purposes which are not commercial;

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @09:05AM (#42954697)

    No, it is not a common misconception. But it depends on which country you live in. Private non-commercial usage and even studies of existing patents are license-free in many countries. So, check your local laws.

  • by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @09:11AM (#42954717)
    The problem is companies are more and more using broad range patents to control whole industries. That is NOT how patents are meant to be used. I don't want to see a limiting so much as a modification and redirection. Notice many of these patents are from the 90s and even 80s or before. Some of them are not based on a product so much as an antiscipation of a need to they file an offensive/defensive patent then they wait until alot of major companies are using the process and rack up big profits then they sue. Two simple cures, if they really do have a product give them three years to develop it so most of these troll patents would have expired. I'm talking patents on methods and other broad range patents like gestures and such. Also force them to file within 12 months of a competing product being release. That would kill off these massive lawsuits for 5 to 10 years of infringement before they even filed. Better yet force them to file a cease and desist and give the company 6 to 12 months to stop infringing then if the company fails to comply they can sue to day one. I'm guessing the vast majority of companies had no idea they were infringing and most would make the needed changes to avoid the lawsuit. The current system encourages greed by allowing the patent holder to wait years before filing against a company. This actually prevents the company from stopping the infringement since they aren't made aware of the problem. The system doesn't need to be scrapped it needs to be fixed and reasonable rules and limitations brought in.
  • by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @09:14AM (#42954731)

    His real breakthrough was the constant-force spring mechanism for the clockwork. Which was genuinely innovative, but became obsolete, because it replaced the impractical "dynamos charging crap batteries" approach, and then it was replaced in turn by the practical "dynamo charging good batteries". Because a dynamo charging batteries is obviously not novel, this approach probably shouldn't be patentable (although possibly someone has a patent for "dynamo charging batteries, only with batteries that aren't crap").

    He didn't make any further money from the company that sold his clockwork radios because he sold his stock - the clockwork models haven't been in production since 2000, so no licensing fees.

  • by devjoe ( 88696 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @10:41AM (#42955305)

    This comes up every now and then, and it honestly looks like the majority of 3d printing patents are legitimate, original inventions that the owners created.

    Take the "soluble print materials that support a structure whie it's being printed"; that's genius, I would never have come up with that.

    I agree that the soluble print materials one is quite likely valid, a patent on an ingenious choice of materials that makes 3-D printing possible. This is an innovative field, and this patent is old enough to possibly be able to legitimately claim to have invented this idea and not be invalidated by prior art.

    However, the patent linked in the summary on distributed rapid prototyping does not appear to have been granted, only filed (almost 6 years ago), and no doubt is having some trouble getting accepted due to broadness, prior art, and other considerations. This patent does not even appear to cover any specific 3-D printing method, but just the general process of setting up a service to produce 3-D models, and as such, should be invalidated due to being an obvious adaptation of services for conventional (2-D) printing into a new market for 3-D printing given the availability of 3-D printers.

    The MIT patent is expired. It is more than 17 years since issue and more than 20 years since filing. The article says this one is "on the brink of expiration" so I assume it was written sometime last year when the patent was still valid. But it was very likely valid until it expired, and another innovation that helped establish the field.

    The article contains some other possibly valid patents, e.g., the smoothing one (if there is not prior art), the temperature control one from 2004, and possibly the filament coil one if their methods for keeping the filament feed smooth and/or automatically switching spools are really original. The summary just chose (2 out of 3) bad examples out of the article which stretched a bit to make a "top 10" list.

The road to ruin is always in good repair, and the travellers pay the expense of it. -- Josh Billings