Kickstarter to be sued over 3D printer patent breach

By Peter Gothard
22 Nov 2012 View Comments

Crowd-sourcing site Kickstarter is set to be sued by 3D printing firm 3D Systems, which alleges that Kickstarter is helping to raise funds for a product that it says infringes one of its patents.

Formlabs, against which 3D Systems has also filed a lawsuit, has had its Kickstarter page up since 26 September this year, and reached its $100,000 (£62,644) funding goal just a month later. It has since raised a total of $2,945,885 (£1,845,406) from people willing to invest in its product, which will cost around $2,700 (£1,700) at retail.

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It's the printing technique used by Formlabs' Form 1 machine that has raised alarm bells with 3D Systems. Called stereolithiography, the technique of 3D printing has been in common use since the 1980s, and involves the familiar 3D printing process of drawing layer after layer of a design with an ultraviolet laser, drying each liquid layer systematically as the design takes shape.

3D Systems, however, says it adapted the procedure to let a laser draw new layers before the last had dried, improving the structural strength of the 3D print.

The company won a patent for "simultaneous multiple layer curing in stereolithography" in 1997, and says it is "well known" in the 3D printing industry for controlling this technique, having already fought other lawsuits to protect it.

3D Systems is basing its legal argument on Formlabs' apparent recent admissions to websites Techcrunch and SolidSmack that it was able to offer such a cheap printing solution because it was taking advantage of expired patents.

However, 3D Systems' decision to sue Kickstarter is perhaps the most interesting aspect here. 3D Systems bases its argument on the notion that Kickstarter is complicit in the patent breach by taking five per cent of financial pledges made for the product. It also alleges that by promoting Formlabs' printer, Kickstarter has caused "immediate and irreparable injury and damage" to 3D Systems.

Kickstarter, which was founded in 2009, has been enjoying phenomenal success over the past year, with several high-profile technology and gaming projects benefiting from its funding model.

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