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Continuous Composites Sues Markforged for Continuous Fiber 3D Printing

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Every industry is ripe with lawsuits, but when the niche is as competitive as it is in 3D printing, we’re bound to see companies taken to court. This may be particularly true in the even narrow segment of carbon fiber additive manufacturing (AM), where there are fewer firms and more overlapping technologies. Markforged is facing another lawsuit, this time from Continuous Composites.

Markforged first went public with its continuous fiber fabrication (CFF) process in 2014, but has patents dating back to at least 2013. Continuous Composites has claimed in a press release that  “[t]hese four patents are part of a larger family of nine patents and two pending applications having priority back to 2012 that precede the founding of Markforged in 2013 and the release of its first commercially available continuous fiber printer in 2016.” It then suggests that four Markforged printers for CFF—the Mark Two, Onyx Pro, X5, and X7—generate the most revenue for the company but infringe on Continuous Composites’ own patents.

Image courtesy of Markforged.

The earliest patent from the latter, Idaho-based startup dates to 2012. For this reason, the company claims that it has the earliest granted patents on continuous fiber 3D printing and has filed a lawsuit against Markforged in the U.S District Court for the District of Delaware. Continuous Composites is aiming for monetary damages for past infringement and an injunction against Markforged, prohibiting its use of intellectual property. The firm is being represented by Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and Lee & Hayes P.C.

Continuous Composites’ CF3D process. Image courtesy of Continuous Composites.

While both companies reinforce 3D printed parts with continuous fibers, such as carbon fiber, Continuous Composites’ Continuous Fiber 3D printing (CF3D) is quite different from CFF. The former relies on a photopolymer resin to cure parts that are lined with reinforcement, while the latter uses an extrusion print head to heat thermoplastics. CF3D has most often been shown integrated into an industrial robotic arm. In contrast, CFF is built into a desktop gantry system.

If anything, CFF is much more similar to the carbon fiber technology now being offered by Desktop Metal, which was previously involved in lawsuits with Markforged already. This was related to metal 3D printing, however, and began with Desktop Metal claiming Markforged infringed on its desktop metal extrusion process. This was followed by a resolution and then a suit by Markforged against Desktop Metal for infringing on their agreement.

This is only the latest in a long list of lawsuits in the 3D printing industry over the years, which have ranged from infringements on technology patents to class action suits against corporations and the possibility that 3D printable gun files are a form of free speech. Because the carbon fiber 3D printing space is so small, will we witness more suits related to companies like 9T or Anisoprint? We’ll have to see how this pans out, but what makes the stakes even higher is the fact that Markforged is shooting for an August SPAC IPO. These cases often take years. Will the suit impact the IPO launch date?

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