3D Systems Sues Formlabs and Kickstarter

Everybody remember the Formlabs Form 1? It’s the desktop 3D printer that  raised nearly $3 million a couple of months ago on Kickstarter. Part of its allure was the quality of output it could produce, rivaling the output of printers costing $30,000 to a million or more. According to the team’s project page on Kickstarter:

“Our reason for starting this project is simple: there are no low-cost 3D printers that meet the quality standards of the professional designer. As researchers at the MIT Media Lab, we were lucky to experience the best and most expensive fabrication equipment in the world. But, we became frustrated by the fact that all the professional-quality 3D printers were ridiculously expensive (read: tens of thousands of dollars) and were so complex to use. In 2011, we decided to build a solution to this problem ourselves, and we are now ready to share it with the world.”

Now it turns out that Formlabs may have violated a patent belonging to 3D Systems, one of the companies that makes those expensive, professional-quality 3D printers. Clearly 3D Systems was not happy and yesterday announced that they’ve filed a patent infringement suit against Formlabs and Kickstarter.

Recent legal actions by Apple, Samsung, and others have made patent law and enforcement a hot topic. One one hand people say that intellectual property rights must be enforced. On the other, people say that the current patent system is stifling innovation while stuffing the pockets of patent lawyers. In general we’d probably agree with the later sentiment.

In this case though, the real danger to innovation is legal action against Kickstarter. The firm provides a platform where companies can crowdfund their products, services, and ideas. They don’t have an interest in the offering beyond the small service fee they collect in exchange for their technology and traffic. Their Terms of Use clearly spells out their stance on patent infringement:

“You are responsible for all of your activity in connection with the Service. You shall not, and shall not permit any third party using your account to, take any action, or Submit Content, that:

  • infringes any patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright, right of publicity, or other right of any other person or entity, or violates any law or contract.”

Is this not enough to indemnify them? Should Kickstarter have to conduct the due diligence on each project to make sure no patents have been infringed upon? Or is that work the responsibility of the project creator? From our vantage point that job falls squarely on the project team’s shoulders.

The more troubling question is what happens when the verdict is handed down? If Kickstarter is judged in violation of 3D Systems patents, one can assume that the hardware innovation renascence that is happening in crowdfunding right now will diminish. One could also see Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms raising fees and limiting the types of projects that get posted. We think this could be very bad for the fledgling crowdfunding industry, an industry at the center of 3D printing innovation.

To learn more about 3D printing and how it could power your business, CONTACT US today.

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  1. 3D Printing and Intellectual Property | Trading Secrets - March 21, 2013

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