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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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @06:33AM (#42954151)

    The wired article also admits as much (before drumming up the hysteria).

    If you dig into PAIR on the broad patent for all 3D printing done over the web, for example (http://portal.uspto.gov/pair/PublicPair, search for application 11/818,521 and go to "image file wrapper) the examiner and prospective patenter are engaged in a pretty intense fight over the obviousness of the application.

  • Not all that bad (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LMariachi ( 86077 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @06:44AM (#42954193) Journal

    The distributed rapid prototyping one is absurdly broad and pretty obvious, but it's worth noting that it is still pending. The soluble materials one covers specific formulations, not the general concept of a "lost armature." Makerbot, on the other hand, appears to have successfully patented the conveyor belt.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:40AM (#42954419)

    Good grief, do you even know what the word "only" means?

    A correct usage of the term is: You only know about China from reading about how they've copied others.

    But how much American innovation is in fact done by Chinese immigrants?

    When one thing changes, other things change. China has about four times the capacity to innovate than the US does. It just finds it more profitable to perform that innovation in the US. For now.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:40AM (#42954423)

    China is already innovating and developing on its own, anyone still claiming otherwise is wrong. A article on slashdot was about chinees researching finding something interesting a while back. Completely forgot what it was about though.

  • by malkavian ( 9512 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @07:59AM (#42954465)

    That was exactly what was said of the US about a century or so ago. It was notorious for not following copyright, or any other form of IP protection, and spawned many a copy of works. Then when it had become established and used its own internal knowledge to create new variants, it used foreign legal systems to prevent the idea being used there, and thus stay ahead.
    It worked for the US. It worked for Japan. It's a proven strategy that'll work for China too.. Last time I was there, I saw what looked like a sizeable town being built in the rural backroads.. I was informed it was a new university campus being built, and that it was far from the only one.
    China understands that the way to growth and development is education and work combined. They're slowly insourcing all the key components to let it succeed. When they have the R&D, the specialists and the production all done locally, that's when the MBAs will suddenly wake up and realise that the really simple thing to insource is the management.

  • by Slugster ( 635830 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @08:51AM (#42954629)
    I recall reading that bulldozer wheels were rebuilt by wire-welding at least as far back as the 1960's.

    As a (steel-track) bulldozer gets used, the dirt between the wheels and tracks causes the wheels to wear down and decrease in diameter. To fix the problem, there are automatic machines that slowly rotate the wheel while running a wire-feed welder back and forth across the worn-down surface. When the wheel's outer diameter has reached a point where it is slightly larger than necessary, the wheel is removed and machined back down to the proper diameter again.

    Seems a hassle but apparently it is a lot cheaper than making a whole new wheel.
  • by samkass ( 174571 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @10:20AM (#42955127) Homepage Journal

    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.

    In that case it's solving a different problem. The problem with 3D printing is that in most methods it's put down layer by layer. Thus, any "stalactites" are impossible to build without putting a support under them. There are a variety of ways to solve this; they are using a particular dissolvable-yet-printable material to solve it. Would it be immediately obvious to you which material to pick that can be deposited by a 3D printer and be structurally sound yet dissolved away?

    There is a lot of solid invention that's been done over the last dozen years in the field. Ever seen InvisAlign, the invisible plastic braces? They've done all their molds with 3D Systems' stereolithography machines since 1999 and also have a bunch of patents on 3D printing mass-production/mass-customization. They spent millions developing ways to produce tens of thousands of unique, precise pieces of plastic a day, and have had issues with competitors trying to cut out all the R&D costs and undersell them.

Help! I'm trapped in a PDP 11/70!