About two weeks ago a new 3D printer manufacturer called NEXA3D launched a Kickstarter campaign for the NX1. The superfast light-cured resin 3D printer boasted lightning fast printing speeds thanks to what they were calling “patented” LSPc (Self-Lubricant Sublayer Photocuring) technology. The Kickstarter campaign was getting quite a bit of buzz and quickly pulled in almost half of their funding goal in the first few days. Unfortunately, the NEXA3D design team’s smooth sailing wasn’t going to last very long. Within a few days a series of rather serious accusations of patent infringement claims and stolen technology were leveled against them by a company claiming that the technology used by the NX1 was actually theirs.
It turned out that NEXA3D doesn’t actually have a patent on the LSPc technology, though it looks like they have filed for a patent. Not holding a patent on new technology isn’t a huge shock considering it can take years for patents to be approved, but “patented” and “patent pending” mean two totally different things and NEXA3D really should have known better. NEXA3D quietly altered their campaign to eliminate most of the claims that they hold a patent, although not entirely. But slightly misleading language isn’t really the problem as the claims being made by Diego Castanon from NewPro3D are far more serious. After 3DPrint.com ran an article about the NX1 Kickstarter campaign we were contacted by Castanon claiming that NEXA3D was using technology that does not belong to them.
While I didn’t write the article about the NX1 I still ended up looking over the campaign because the low price and fast printing speeds seemed intriguing. I’ll be frank, I wasn’t impressed. Not so much with the technology, which sounds quite interesting. But the Kickstarter campaign itself seemed to be hastily thrown together, had very little documentation of how and why the technology works, only a handful of printed samples and a video that included mostly 3D renderings of the NX1. Those are all things that I see as red flags when I look over a campaign, so when we received the first email from Castanon I immediately started looking closer at the campaign and his claims against NEXA3D.
Castanon claimed that he had registered for a patent months before NEXA3D had registered for theirs and as proof he provided a copy of his registered Patent Cooperation Treaty. Unfortunately the document doesn’t really prove much of anything other than he filed for a patent. It doesn’t include the technology that he is requesting a patent for, nor does it even include the name of his company. The only thing it does have is the name of his patent attorney, who unfortunately did not return my email.
We weren’t the only ones that Castanon contacted either; he hit the comment sections of just about every article written about the NX1, not to mention the Kickstarter forums, and his claims were all the same. Castanon said that he had developed the technology, and that NEXA3D was cloning his technology and even using the exact wording and images. While looking over the specs for both printing processes they are indeed quite similar, but I don’t see any cloned wording or images. While NEXA3D’s LSPc process is quite similar to NewPro3D’s ILI process (Intelligent Liquid Interface) there is nothing that suggests to me that one technology is being stolen from the other. In fact, both processes even seem vaguely similar to the CLIP process developed by Carbon3D.
Video of the NEXA3D LSPc process:
Video of the NewPro3D ILI process:
Video of the Carbon3D CLIP process:
While Andrea Denaro, the co-founder of NEXA3D, didn’t directly address the patent infringement claims being made by Castanon in our interview with him, we did ask, and the company didn’t stay silent on the issue. NEXA3D denied any sort of wrongdoing on their part and completely brushed off Castanon’s claims in an update posted last week on their Kickstarter campaign:
“We have been developing our technology for years and filed our first patents in 2014. I assure you our work is proprietary to what we developed in our own lab and if you compare the NX1 to any other existing or pending patents, you will clearly see our methods are completely different from all other 3D printing technologies – this is how we have a working 3D printer which prints 40 times faster than the competition. We know exactly what we built with our own hands and engineering knowledge and we welcome any challengers to step forward into the light to try to prove otherwise – it simply will not happen, because we are the team that developed 100% of the NX1’s technology.”
So what do we make of all of this? With both sides essentially calling each other patent trolls, who are we supposed to believe? While the NEXA3D Kickstarter campaign was pretty bare bones and unimpressive when it was launched, the company has updated it several times to include more details about the LSPc process. They’ve also added images of small and detailed objects printed on the NX1, live video of it working and have been quite responsive to questions and concerns on their campaign’s comment section. It is pretty clear that the NX1 technology wasn’t thrown together at the last minute but developed over a long period of time, especially when reading Sarah Anderson Goehrke’s interview with Nexa3D’s co-founder. Alternately, Castanon and the NewPro3D team also have plenty of proof that they’ve been working on their ILI process for quite a while. They have several videos of their printer working posted on their website (which was put up quite quickly in the wake of this potential-patent dispute), and a lot of detailed information about the process.
I think it is pretty clear that neither company is lying about developing their own technology. It isn’t outside of the realm of possibility that the Canada-based NewPro3D and the Italy-based NEXA3D both developed technology along the same path and one of them just managed to bring it to market before the other. And while both sides are claiming that their business is being harmed by the other, neither company actually has a legal claim to the technology yet. It sounds like this issue will ultimately come down to who wins the patent first, if either of them win the patent at all. We’ll be keeping an eye on this story as it develops, but it is unlikely that anything but a group of lawyers will be able to sort this out any time soon. Discuss this story in the Nexa3D IP dispute forum thread on 3DPB.com.