Mar 2, 2017 | By Benedict
Netherlands-based 3D printer manufacturer Ultimaker has filed its first ever patents. The company says the patents are “defensive,” to protect against patent infringement lawsuits, and that it remains “100% committed to [its] open source ethos.”
In what was always likely to be a contentious move, 3D printer manufacturer Ultimaker—historically a champion of open-source technologies—has filed its first patents. In a blog post published earlier this week, Ultimaker explained how it has filed the “defensive” patents in order to protect its intellectual property. “Quite simply, that means we’re filing patents on our inventions to prevent other companies from claiming them as their own,” the company says.
Last year, Ultimaker released its latest 3D printer, the Ultimaker 3, showcasing new features such as automatic bed leveling, dual extrusion, and a built-in camera. According to the company, new technologies like these must now be protected—by law, not by trust. Ultimaker says its defensive patents will protect it from patent infringement lawsuits from other 3D printer manufacturers while also giving it the potential to countersue. The 3D printing company also says that the patents will give it “complete freedom” to continue developing new technology.
While Ultimaker’s reasons for filing its patents certainly make sense, a certain degree of backlash was always to be expected from such an announcement. After all, this is a company that has built its reputation upon close interaction with the maker community and a commitment to open source—allowing its customers to modify, rework, and rebuild its technology with total freedom. Accordingly, the initial blog post makes a number of reassurances to the maker community that the patents will not affect them, nor the principles of open source.
But will those reassurances stick? “If you’re an individual user or contributor, you don’t need to worry, as these patents will not affect you,” Ultimaker says, adding that it “won’t be initiating patent lawsuits against anyone who uses [its] technology in good faith.” The company also says it won’t be claiming IP rights from other parties, and will share Ultimaker 3 STEP files on GitHub. The announcement gives no great reason for panic, though some may be concerned about what the company considers to be “good faith.” For example, Ultimaker’s legal team will permit its IP to be taken for personal use, research, and “small business development.” Presumably Ultimaker will arbitrate on whether a business counts as “small” or a competitor.
Initial responses from the Ultimaker community have, on the whole, contained a tone of acceptance and caution—acceptance that Ultimaker probably needs to take these steps to thrive as a business, with caution regarding its promised commitment to open source. Although it would be highly unexpected for the company to make a rapid U-turn on this commitment, some makers still fear that Ultimaker entering into the murky waters of big business will eventually move the company away from its community-focused beginnings.
Further reassurances from the Ultimaker camp came from Sander van Geelen, the company’s Community Manager, who offered the following (fairly conclusive) comment: “A new road is ahead in which we are still busy formalizing all the challenges but we are confident we can address the needs for both you and this new corporate scene without losing our unique identity. We acknowledge our roots and we feel like we can introduce some of this openness into the corporate world. But we prefer not to do it blindfolded and vulnerable.”
Will makers start getting sued by Ultimaker? No. Are these patents a good thing for the 3D printing community? Time will tell.
Posted in 3D Printer Company
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Robin Leech wrote at 3/3/2017 10:23:49 PM:
I think the real issue there is their future. I mean, if someone manages to buy the company, or those in charge just change their mind, the patents allow them to suddenly decide to go "closed-source". The main concern there really is that they'll use the open source community as their R&D department, with a number of open source models, and then later on, roll out a closed source, serious commercial product like the IPhone of 3D printers, leaving the community to use less reliable or accurate versions etc. or buy the new version.
McChuckwich wrote at 3/3/2017 9:20:01 PM:
The Prusa creator (Prusa Research) is doing just fine these days, some would say better than fine. So is Aleph Objects (LulzBot) and they share everything. And yes, Open Source does mean Free for all. That's exactly what it means.
I.AM.Magic wrote at 3/3/2017 8:27:49 AM:
They are 100 % right; otherwise they'll finish like the J-head or Prusa creator. Open source doesn't mean free for all.