This week Michigan-based industrial 3D printer manufacturer EnvisionTEC filed a lawsuit in a California federal court accusing MIT spinoff Formlabs of patent infringement. According to the lawsuit, Formlabs’ desktop Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printers include technology that they believe is too similar to two patents held by EnvisionTEC. In addition to seeking unspecified monetary damages, EnvisionTEC is seeking an injunction to prevent Formlabs from continuing to sell their Form1 and Form2 SLA 3D printers.
This is the second patent infringement case brought against Formlabs since they originally formed back in 2011. The first was brought against them by 3D printing giant 3D Systems, who sued them back in 2012 for using technology that they claimed to hold a patent for. Formlabs eventually settled with 3D Systems out of court, reportedly agreeing to pay them 8% of their net sales for an unspecified amount of time. At press time Formlabs has not commented or released a statement regarding the EnvisionTEC lawsuit or accusations of patent infringement.
On Monday, EnvisionTEC CEO Al Siblani issued a statement explaining the company’s reasons for pursuing legal action against Formlabs:
“EnvisionTEC has been inventing, developing, manufacturing and selling 3D printers, materials and other related technologies and services for nearly 15 years. Today, we hold numerous patents around the world covering a variety of our 3D printing products, methods and more. This intellectual property was researched and developed over many years by our innovative team of professionals and is invaluable to our business serving a variety of medical, professional and industrial markets around the world. We are committed to aggressively protecting our intellectual property in accordance with the laws of the countries in which we operate.”
The news of this lawsuit comes at an inconvenient time for the Somerville, Massachusetts-based Formlabs, which just announced the completion of an investment round that raised over $35 million. The investment came primarily from software giant Autodesk and venture capital firm Foundry Group, whose co-founder Brad Feld joined the company’s board. Autodesk and Formlabs have also announced plans to work together on software integration and joint marketing campaigns. While it is unlikely that this lawsuit will derail Formlabs’ partnership with Autodesk, it can’t have made their brand new investors especially happy.
Formlabs has reported that demand for their SLA 3D printers is higher than ever, having seen a 100% growth in annual sales for the third year in a row. They are currently shipping more than 1,000 3D printers each month and now have offices in North America, Europe and Asia. Interrupting the sale and distribution of Formlabs 3D printers would be financially devastating to the young company, even with their recently fattened wallet. It would also seriously derail their attempts to expand outside of North America, which is a likely motive behind the timing of the lawsuit.
Considering that Formlabs’ SLA technology is not new, nor has it been upgraded since the debut of the Form 2 a year ago this month, the timing of EnvisionTEC’s lawsuit is curious. Formlabs has recently began aggressively marketing their desktop SLA 3D printers to the jewelry, dental and hearing aid industries. They have also begun to expand outside of the North American market, specifically targeting the European and Asian 3D printer markets. Those are all markets and industries that EnvisionTEC holds a not-insignificant market share in. Considering that the Form1 and Form2 are priced significantly lower than many of the options sold by EnvisionTEC Formlabs has very quickly become a major competitor for them. Discuss further in the Formlabs 3D Printer Lawsuit forum thread over at 3DPB.com.