Although legal battles over intellectual property, particularly patents, are a common occurrence within many larger technological fields, the 3D printing industry has remained relatively quiet when it comes to legal disputes. This is besides the one main battle which has been going on within the public’s view for just over two years now.
If any of you have seen the Netflix exclusive documentary ‘Print The Legend’, then you likely have a good grasp on the players involved in this suit. 3D Systems, the company whose founder Chuck Hull originally invented 3D printing back in the early 1980’s, had patented the Stereolithography (SLA) process used within 3D printers back in 1997. Until recently they had been the primary beneficiary of the technology, selling multiple SLA machines to manufacturers worldwide. Then, in October of 2012, a startup called Formlabs entered the space in a big way. The company raised over $2.9 million on Kickstarter via a crowdfunding campaign, in which they were seeking money to develop a desktop SLA 3D printer, the Form 1.
The Form 1 worked by curing a photosensitive resin with a UV laser, one layer at a time, until an object was completely fabricated. 3D Systems almost immediately filed a lawsuit against the company along with Kickstarter, stating that claims 1 and 34 of U.S. Patent No. 5,597,520 were infringed upon.
In the two years since the lawsuit was initially filed, the 3D printing industry has taken off considerably. Not only has Formlabs sold thousands of their Form 1 3D printer, but they have also released a new machined, the Form 1+, earlier this year, which has also been a hot commodity. In addition, there are a number of new startups which have entered the space and are relying on SLA technology within their 3D printers in order to produce objects which are of much higher resolution than what many FFF/FDM printers are capable of.
Earlier this year 3D Systems expressed a willingness to halt proceedings and sit down for discussions with the startup, expressing their desire to perhaps work things out in a rapidly changing business environment. It appears that these talks have today led to a dismissal of the lawsuit. In fact, the lawsuit has been dismissed with prejudice, meaning that it is over and done with, once and for all, and can not be brought back to court. Formlabs will apparently be able to proceed with their business, selling both their machines without the fear of possible infringement or future damages. This does not equate to a victory for the company, but is certainly a major step in the right direction for Formlabs, who despite the pending suit managed to raise $19 million in Series A Funding last October.
The exact terms of the dismissal, and the settlement which has led to it, remain undisclosed. It will be interesting to see if this news will light a fire under some of the companies who have been looking into SLA as a technology to drive their future 3D printers. Let’s hear your thoughts on this dismissal in the 3D Systems Vs. Formlabs Lawsuit forum thread on 3DPB.com.