The popularity of Ultimaker is for a number of reasons. Yes, the company does produce reliable, high-quality 3D printers that consistently makes the top of “best 3D printers” lists, but one of the things that people really love about Ultimaker is that they’re open source. Nothing is patented, and users are invited to collaborate with Ultimaker by sharing their own ideas and inventions to further develop the printers, sometimes resulting in new features adopted by the company.
Ultimaker’s loyal fans love that spirit of sharing and collaboration – so it’s understandable if there’s some unease within the community following Ultimaker’s latest announcement: they’ve filed their first patent, specifically for the Active Bed Leveling technology used in the Ultimaker 3. In one marvelously impressive single sentence, Ultimaker describes the feature thus:
“According the present invention a print bed levelling system of the type defined in the preamble is provided, wherein the print bed levelling system comprises a nozzle head assembly movably arranged with respect to a substantially flat print bed member, the nozzle head assembly comprising one or more nozzle bodies each having a nozzle end, and a contactless sensor member disposed at a print bed engagement end of the nozzle head assembly, wherein the contactless sensor member comprises a sensing surface in sensing engagement with the print bed member over a relative sensing range between a distal sensing position and a proximal sensing distance.”
Oh, that feature. Ultimaker has been quick to assure their fans, however, that their open source philosophy is not changing and is not going to change. It won’t affect users at all, in fact, but to avoid a patent panic, the company is proactively explaining the reasoning behind their decision. The patent is being filed for defensive purposes, in response to the company’s recent growth and preparation for entry into a global professional market, which is a whole different ballgame rife with complex intellectual property issues and frequent lawsuits. Basically, the defensive patent keeps Ultimaker’s IP safe and enables them to countersue if another company should ever accuse them of infringement.
That’s pretty much it. It’s a peace of mind thing, Ultimaker says, enabling them to focus on further product development and design without the risk of their progress being interrupted by complex legal issues.
“The patents are in place to protect our intellectual property, which means we can focus on developing superior products for our customers,” said Ultimaker CEO Jos Burger. “We won’t be initiating patent lawsuits against anyone who uses our technology in good faith. Personal use, research and small business development is, of course, what our products and services are designed for. The patents are in place not to restrict our users in any way, but to allow our company, partners and users alike the chance to enjoy greater design freedom. We’re proud of our role in developing the 3D printing ecosystem worldwide, and our defensive patents will enable us to continue to do this.”
So don’t panic. Ultimaker’s decision to be upfront about what they’re doing should further reassure users that the company isn’t quietly dismantling their open-source model or trying to hide anything. The 3D printing community, though widespread, is a tight one in which nothing stays secret for very long – you can imagine the uproar that would happen if Ultimaker had decided to keep their patent application quiet and it inevitably leaked into the online community. “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?! THEY’RE SELLING OUT! @!*y&*$*&*35-!” No, Ultimaker soothes, they are not selling out, and they intend to keep their users in the loop every step of the way – because there will be more patents, and information about each will be included in a special section Ultimaker will be adding to their website. As always, the company will be continuing to share files through GitHub. Discuss in the Ultimaker forum at 3DPB.com.