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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."
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The Patents That Threaten 3-D Printing

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  • by shentino ( 1139071 ) <> on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @06:39AM (#42954179)

    That would be better than the present state of affairs where patents are used to force monopolies on the market and the small inventors get screwed over anyway by getting bullied out of the courtroom with superior legal budgets.

    The small guy will get fucked over anyway, may as well make it so that the big evil corporations don't get all the windfall.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @06:42AM (#42954183)

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

  • by fantomas ( 94850 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @06:49AM (#42954217)

    Lawyers do seem to be crushing innovation in the USA. Do you think it's possible that innovation and the world's lead in technical developments will shift to places where inventors/creators/small start ups are less inhibited by patent /copyright etc laws, and new products get pushed out without so much risk of being crushed by established old organisations? I'm wondering if places where legal frameworks aren't so closely adhered to will take the lead in the near future and be tolerated by their national governments as a way of increasing their share of the world economy?

  • by ikaruga ( 2725453 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:12AM (#42954295)
    Back in the late 19th/early 20th century patents still made some sense as most devices were pretty much single purpose. But nowadays, when the trend is to make everything do everything and there is this fusion of all types of technologies going on, this classical patent system is completely inappropriate. Depending on the field you're working, it's an inhuman task to even keep track of all patents you're infringing.
    The physical/chemical 3D print methods mentioned in the article are just the tip of the iceberg. If you start nitpicking, I wouldn't be surprised by the potential huge number of both software/firmware and electromechanical/mechatronics/robotics hardware patents they break.
    The worst thing is that 3d printers are just highly specialized robots. Imagine in a few years when semi-general purpose robots start becoming common appliances, as healthcare, entertainment, maintenance or security tools. Robotics is known as the field of engineering that joins all other fields and because of that, even a basic cleaning robot will infringe pretty much every type of patent in the world. I think like the moment robot companies like iRobot or Cyberdyne release a killer consumer product they will pretty much be sued in oblivion by all other companies.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:15AM (#42954321)

    They were invented to protect the rights of the inventors. But were legislated to promote innovation and economic growth.

    With companies holding their money offshore, outsourcing production and suing into submission their competition or anyone contesting their right to use those inventions, I'd say patents law failed on all fronts.

    A month ago, there was an interesting story, about a pharma corp with wonder drug and expiring patent. Funny thing, the drug is so complex, even with the competition knowing how to make the drug, they'll still hold the monopoly. Actually, not that funny, because I'm one of those that would appreciate that certain drug at a more affordable price.

  • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:38AM (#42954403)
    In the manufacture of Diesel engine pistons, which are cast, a soluble ring of high melting point salts has long been used to form the internal oil gallery. And I am sure that this technique did not originate with pistons. The problem is that the patent office now allows inventions to be "something A which already exists + something B which already exists", without any actual inventive step.

    As an example, I am a little sorry for Trevor Bayliss who never really made any money out of his wind up radio, but given hand cranked magneto telephones had been around for many years, the idea of a hand cranked magneto radio set really should not be patentable. It is just another communications device with a hand charger.

  • by Kilo Kilo ( 2837521 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:51AM (#42954449)
    Having just submitted my first provisional patent, one for an actual, physical device, these patents for "vague ideas of doing something" look more and more absurd every day. If you don't know how to do something, then you really haven't invented anything. I've got this idea of a car that runs on rainbows and happy thoughts. Here's a poorly drawn picture of a rainbow and a smiling person sitting in the car and the car is moving.
  • by RabidReindeer ( 2625839 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @09:06AM (#42954699)

    There is no such thing as a natural ownership of any kind of knowledge.

    Also wrong. You can "own" knowledge without owning it exclusively. I own knowledge on how to operate my DVD player, for example - something others in this household never bothered to acquire. The patent system was designed so that people could make their exclusive knowledge patently known without losing the benefit of keeping it secret. One reason why a patent is supposed to be on knowledge that's not obvious or commonly (patently) known (and therefore not exclusive).

    Most people think it's a good idea to be able to protect one's original thought while promoting it for personal gain. Where the whole concept went sour is when we started allowing patents on things that were either broad concepts (especially without explicit illustrations) or obvious to everyone. Such as adding "on the Internet" to anything anyone ever did over the last 10-20 millennia or more.

  • by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @09:20AM (#42954761)

    "Oh shit, a large company will just steal it anyway and use their huge legal fund to squash me into the dirt. I guess I'd better just go french kiss a shotgun."

    This is probably among the reasons why software has seen so much more innovation from little guys than physical engineering has recently, and not just any software, software as a service (e.g. social networks, search engines). What really matters in that space is getting into the market early and impressing people. The serious R&D in that space is mostly about scaling the service and not producing a product - so you CAN keep it a trade secret, because it's stuck behind your firewall and not in the hands of your competitors for a few dollars.

  • by JDG1980 ( 2438906 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @10:34AM (#42955253)

    "why bother doing it if someone will steal your work"

    The history of the IT field pretty much disproves that. Everyone borrowed from everyone else, and most developers never even bothered to file for patents. Would it really have been better for the IT industry if no one except Dan Bricklin had been able to produce a spreadsheet program until 1999?

You will never amount to much. -- Munich Schoolmaster, to Albert Einstein, age 10