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Questionable Patents From MakerBot 56

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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  • I assume 10 others are asking the same question as I type this, but wouldn't a video demonstrating the tech published weeks before the patent was filed constitute prior art, rendering the patent non-novel and invalid?

    • Okay, stupid me, this is why you RTFA first: it specifically discusses this and explains how to submit prior art evidence to the USPTO. /doh

    • by spiritplumber ( 1944222 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @06:20PM (#47079311) Homepage
      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 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 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 dbc ( 135354 )

      Absolutely. MakerBot turned evil quite some time back. Bre is Not A Nice Person in many, many ways.

    • by ncc74656 ( 45571 ) *

      They're taking things from the open source RepRap community and attempting to patent them. Do not support MakerBot.

      First this [slashdot.org], and now this. MakerBot needs to DIAF.

  • All it takes is copies of prior inventors work & videos that show someone else showed the idea first & filed with the patent office and then any later patent application/s are deemed unpatentable.

    Been that way forever.

    • 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.
      • First to invent versus First to file does NOT invalidate the existance of prior art.

        • by jythie ( 914043 )
          Invalidate no, but it does mean that not everything we in the community would consider prior art actually is.
          • Please expand on what you mean here because as far as I understand it we are talking about a very specific technology being implemented and demonstrated, and that very same technology then being patented by someone else.

            It's not like the typical Apple vs Samsung fan fight where we're saying the latch on my gate is prior art to slide to unlock, it looks like they are actually taking an existing technology and patenting it. Not even a technology that was in the process, but one that was demonstrated and shown

      • by dabadab ( 126782 )

        Can we please stop spreading this stupidity?

        The difference between first to invent and first to file has absolutely nothing to do with prior art. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

        It only comes into play when two patent applications are filed for the same invention in roughly the same time because it is how it will be decided which one will be accepted.
        (And, should I elaborate this even more, in this case there are no conflicting patent applications, it's about prior art and prior art has nothing to do with first to fil

    • All it takes is copies of prior inventors work & videos that show someone else showed the idea first & filed with the patent office and then any later patent application/s are deemed unpatentable.

      Been that way forever.

      ...the gotcha is the "filed with the patent office" bit. Has anyone done this? Also, it's easy to add a few extra words to a patent application to say "...but not like that prior art; this one has X as well!"

    • by NoKaOi ( 1415755 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @06:33PM (#47079405)

      It's only "first to file" if the other party is seeking a patent on it too. Prior art means it's not patentable by anybody if Makerbot was first to file but there was prior art. Also remember that if they filed a provisional patent application, then that is their filing date, so any art shown after that is not prior art (I have no idea if that's the case here). Additionally, the filing date of the patent was 10/29/2013 (even though the publication date was a couple days ago). So if the prior art was shown after that (conceivably as early as 10/29/2012 depending on if there was a PPA and its filing date) then it doesn't count as prior art. It could be argued for obviousness if a bunch of others came up with it independently, but that generally comes down to who has the biggest legal budget.

      I actually read the patent claims (not the detailed description or TFA, however). What's different about the patent and what's been in use for a while is that the sensor is triggered by a force on the "tip of the extruder" rather than sensors mounted to carriage. Normally in 3D printer terminology, extruder != hot end, but the diagrams and their description shows that they consider the hot end nozzle the "extruder tip."

  • I bought a Makerbot because I really loved that it was open source. Today, I hate those fucking ASSHOLES!
  • In which we discover that you don't make a public video of your technology until you've secured your own patent.
  • .. if I had known MakerBot would start doing questionable patent stuff like this instead of the openness they seemed to promise back then.

  • From the article:

    So I quickly checked the publication date, and recalled that Steve Graber, whose work we have been basing off of on the FSR auto levelling for the Kossel / Kossel Pro, had published a video of his setup last year:
    https://plus.google.com/110997... [google.com]
    Sure enough, the patent was filed 20+ days after Steve Graber had published his video demostrating probeless auto-levelling.

    Steve Graber's video is dated October 6, 2013. The patent application was filed October 29, 2013. That sure is damning... but wait, what's this in the very first line of the application?

    This application claims the benefit of U.S. Pat. App. 61/719,874, filed Oct. 29, 2012, the entirety of which is incorporated by reference herein.

    This is a non-provisional application of a provisional patent application that was filed a year earlier, well before Graber's video. His video may be "art", but it's not "prior".

    This is not to say that (i) the patent application is valid and should be granted; or (ii) that MakerBot is above reproach, or anything else about it... but just that the article author seems to have gone off half-cocked.

    • 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
      • by Anonymous Coward

        At, least that's the situation in Europe. You only need to file a description and accompanying diagrams. Claims and abstract have to be submitted within 12 months.

        As long as you mentioned your glue head can be "switched on" somewhere in the (usually lengthy) patent description, then you can claim for that a year later.

        What you can't do is claim for something NOT described in the application. This is why applications tend to cover everything plus the kitchen sink. To the uninitiated it looks like someone's t

  • by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @01:49AM (#47081623)

    Some patents are filed defensively. The patents is filed so that no one else can file. The patent is not intended to be defended, one does not have to, but is a defense against someone else getting the patent. In some cases it is less expensive to file a patent than to get a patent overturned.

  • There is no good sense in planting a flag in the enemy's back yard to mark the location of your good idea.

    Not supporting Makerbot at every turn will take a toll on their sales, but odds are that Stratasys must sell 500 Makerbots to earn what they do with the sale of a single Fortis system. When they decide to shut down Makerbot, it will be with a sigh of relief and no noticable hit to their bottom line. I shudder thinking what end user support is like with those crappy Makerbot machines.

    Ultimately the only

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