By Romain Dillet
3D Systems (DDD) has filed a lawsuit against both Formlabs and Kickstarter for patent infringement. Formlabs is the manufacturer of a low-cost 3D printer called the Form 1. Thanks to the stereolithography printing technique, the Form 1 can achieve professional grade 3D printing in a small hobbyist printer. It quickly became a Kickstarter success. Yet, in 1997 3D Systems patented stereolithography applications and now wants reparation from Formlabs and Kickstarter who promoted the printer.
The Kickstarter fundraising campaign topped $1.4 million in pre-orders in just under a week, making it one of the notable successes of the platform. Formlabs ultimately raised $2,945,885. Kickstarter is financially involved as it takes a 5 percent cut on each campaign, according to the BBC.
Instead of using traditional melting techniques, Formlabs has opted for the "gold standard" in 3D printing - stereolithography, a high-precision positioning system designed to solidify plastics. It allows you to use thin structures in your original 3D model and achieve a level of detail never seen in home 3D printing, especially for $2,299.
Similarly priced competitors, such as MakerBots, use a more traditional melting technique that doesn't lead to the same rendering. On the other end of the spectrum, high-end competitors cost anywhere between $10,000 and $1 million. The Form 1 was the printer aiming at bridging the gap between those two categories.
But 3D Systems carefully patented stereolithography when it comes to 3D printing. According to the company, its patent portfolio is well-known in the industry, and feigning ignorance won't be enough to defend the Form 1.
When we initially covered Formlabs' Kickstarter success, the company claimed that it managed to keep costs low because a few patents had expired. Co-founder Maxim Lobovsky didn't state which patent exactly, but 3D Systems believes that Formlabs infringed claims 1 and 34 of U.S. Patent No. 5,597,520.
Aside from direct patent infringement, 3D Systems claims that the crowd-funding campaign has caused "immediate and irreparable injury and damage to 3D Systems" by promoting the new printer.
Formlabs and Kickstarter declined to comment.