The perception from some corners of the world regarding 3D printing might be that not too long ago everyone was communing in a rather unspoiled and lawless state of sharing where all the tinkerers and hackers got along swimmingly as they worked on and even helped each other to improve a veritable gold mine of inventions.
Truthfully though, from the bigger picture, patents have been running the show behind the scenes since the beginning, with many of them just expiring and perhaps loosening the reins overall. But it would seem as one patent expires, many more little ones are now being argued over or being created faster than anyone can keep track. And with a growing population of geniuses producing an overflow of brilliant and sometimes similar ideas, controversies are bound to erupt, ruining the party for everyone–and maybe even allowing copyright and intellectual property issues to put the lid on true innovation.
The hobbyist community still seems to sail along fairly effortlessly, aside from a squabble here and there, but intellectual property discussions are growing and numerous entities are working to put some structure in place. For the big guns though, ‘squabble’ wouldn’t quite be the term to describe erupting legal issues.
While a recent suit we’ve been following over printing patents between Memjet and HP may not pan out in the long run, it’s certainly been a mammoth 3D printing buzzkill. As HP dipped their toes further into now highly competitive waters of 3D printing, murmurs were already circulating that as similar as their PageWide technology seemed to Memjet’s waterfall technology–well, maybe they actually had copied it.
As HP incorporated it not only across the board into their 2D lineup, the controversial PageWide technology also went directly into their new full-color Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer. A lawsuit over patents was inevitable, and was brought forth on August 11, 2015. In the suit, Memjet accused HP of stealing eight individual Memjet patents related to their page-wide waterfall printing innovations.
Catching the attention of many, experts and analysts wagered that this might be a groundbreaking case in 3D printing, opening the floodgates to patent battling and expensive nitpicking settled in and out of courtrooms. While this suit probably won’t affect us little people much as we go about our creative business–it actually doesn’t look like it will affect HP much either–from the 3D realm.
The shocking truth is, while there may be some allusions to the MJF technology, Memjet may technically only be suing over the 2D oriented patents. This is probably due to little actual documentation out there about MJF, making it hard to examine, but the fact also remains that Memjet’s technology and patents (seven utility patents and one design patent) are listed as being specifically relevant to 2D technology–not 3D printing, whether applicable in some cases or not.
While this has certainly brought attention to the issue and can serve as a warning to all those who might be considering lifting a little waterfall technology for their own 3D printing innovations, what seems to have happened is that the legal language and the original considerations for Memjet’s page-wide waterfall printing innovations all came into creation before 3D printing was really on anybody’s radar. While it remains to be seen how everything shakes out legally for the two companies, it currently looks as if 3D printing will not be a player in this particular patent lawsuit.[Source: 3D Printing Progress]