Dec 4, 2014 | By Alec

This week, it has been announced that the long-running patent infringement lawsuit between giant 3D printer manufacturer 3D Systems and desktop 3D printer maker Formlabs has been concluded. The two sides elected to settle out of court and agreed to dismiss all claims, provided that Formlabs will pay an 8% royalty on its sales for an unspecified amount of time. Especially the latter provision means that there is a lot going on in the world of 3D printing patents.

Form 8-K for 3D SYSTEMS CORP

On December 1, 2014 the registrant's subsidiary 3D Systems, Inc. ("3D Systems") and Formlabs, Inc. ("Formlabs") agreed to the entry of an Order dismissing all claims and counterclaims with prejudice in an action 3D Systems filed against Formlabs for infringement of United States Patent Nos. 5,554,336, 5,569,431, 5,609,812, 5,609,813, 5,762,856, 5,779,967, 5,785,918, and 5,814,265 (together, the "Subject Patents"), captioned as 3D Systems, Inc. v. Formlabs, Inc., 1:13-cv-07973-RWS, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.


The Order was entered into pursuant to the terms of a Settlement and License Agreement (the "Agreement") dated November 25, 2014 between 3D Systems and Formlabs under which 3D Systems granted to Formlabs a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty bearing, license, without the right to sublicense, to make and sell Formlabs products under the Subject Patents. In consideration of the license and releases granted by 3D Systems, Formlabs agreed to pay 3D Systems a royalty of 8.0% of net sales of Formlabs products through the effective period.

While the 3D printing industry is a long way away from the absurdity that governs the smartphone patent lawsuit business, lawsuits could become a more regularly seen event even in our world that is generally governed by commitments to open-source technology.

This particular case between Formlabs and 3D Systems started in 2012, when 3D Systems began seeking 'injunctive relief and damages for infringement of one of its patents relating to the stereolithography process' from Formlabs. Specifically, the lawsuit focussed on eight patents regarding stereolithography 3D printing technology, also known as SLA. All patents had been granted in the 1990s, as 3D Systems's inventor had invented this manufacturing technique a decade earlier.

As 3D System's legal councillor Andrew Johnson said two years ago, '3D Systems invented and pioneered the 3D printing technology of stereolithography and has many active patents covering various aspects of the stereolithography process. Although Formlabs has publicly stated that certain patents have expired, 3D Systems believes the Form 1 3D printer infringes at least one of our patents, and we intend to enforce our patent rights.'

While the 3D printing community is doubtlessly breathing a sigh of relief that this case has been settled without seriously harming a 3D printer manufacturer, it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. We don't, for instance, know if Formlabs actually abused the patents in question, or if 3D Systems' case was strong enough to win in court. What specific printers does it involve, and what period has been agreed upon? The public memorandum detailing the settlement hardly shares any info, so we can only guess which side had a stronger case. Perhaps, as Michael Weinberg speculated, it's all just part of 3D Systems's strategy to change their position in the market?

Whatever it means, it will doubtlessly make many start-up think twice about the effects their projects have on existing patent filings. The same, to perhaps a far larger degree, can be said about a still ongoing lawsuit between a third giant, Stratasys, and a small start-up printer manufacturer Afinia. This particular case focuses on numerous aspects of everyday FDM 3D printing (rather than SLA), like heated print beds. While we'll have to wait and see what happens to that lawsuit, its effects for the legal position of many start-ups and open-source projects could be extensive. Could it be that lawyers have finally found their way into the 3D printing community?


Posted in 3D Printing Company


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DJH wrote at 12/8/2014 3:19:52 PM:

I wonder if Autodesk will also have to pay royalties on their new SLA printer?

AMnerd wrote at 12/5/2014 1:57:41 PM:

This is a win/win for Form1. By accepting to settle with 3DS they do not only end the ongoing court case but also provide legitimacy to 3DS's claim on the patents, which will cause further problems to any upcoming low-end SLA machine manufacturers.

Mr Angry wrote at 12/4/2014 5:55:53 PM:

I hope the patent trolls hang themselves with filament. What about the betterment for humanity you parasites... US patent system is broken.

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