Legal and Regulatory

Desktop Metal gets injunction to prevent SprintRay from selling ‘Pro’ 3D printers in Germany

Industrial 3D printer manufacturer Desktop Metal has been granted a preliminary injunction by a court in Germany that prevents SprintRay from selling its dental systems there. 

Desktop Metal alleges that the technology used to power SprintRay’s Pro 95 and Pro 55 3D printers infringes upon the patents covering the ‘layer separation process’ of its subsidiary EnvisionTEC. Following the ruling, SprintRay is now prohibited from selling, importing, using or storing any product in Germany, which is alleged to violate these patents. 

“We are very happy with the Court’s decision,” said Michael Jafar, CEO of Desktop Health. “Desktop Metal’s commitment to R&D in hardware, software and material science have resulted in over 650 issued patents and pending patent applications worldwide, which we intend to vigorously enforce.” 

SprintRay’s Pro 95 and Pro 55 3D printers.
The SprintRay Pro 95 and Pro 55 3D printers that are alleged to have breached Desktop Metal’s patents. Image via SprintRay.

Assessing the alleged breach  

Acquired by Desktop Metal for $300 million in January, EnvisionTEC is a manufacturer of both SLA and DLP-powered machines. Known primarily for the latter, the firm now markets a broad portfolio of desktop D4K, larger Perfactory P4K and dual-4K Xtreme 8K 3D printers, as well as its Continuous Digital Light Manufacturing (CDLM) Envision One systems. 

Built specifically to enable the rapid production of polymer parts, the Envision One itself is available in three iterations: Mechanical, Dental and HT. Each features slightly varying top print speeds ranging from 45 mm to 120mm per hour, as well as different heating systems that reflect their distinct target applications, but they all have a similar 180 x 101 x 175 mm build plate and common CDLM architecture. 

According to EnvisionTEC, the fundamentals behind this technology, which allows for “continuous motion of the build plate to deliver exceptional build speeds,” are based on an approach it came up with ten years ago. In fact, the firm says that its DLP systems’ designs are protected by ‘US7892474B2,’ an old patent covering the “continuous generative process for producing a three-dimensional object.”

The company openly lists its patents via its website (which now total 143) and there are many related to the layer separation process carried out by its machines. For instance, the firm was able to protect its technology around creating “separate layers between a flat baseplate and layers of cured polymer,” under patent number ‘DE10119817A1’ in Germany during 2001, albeit this has since been lifted. 

Given that Desktop Metal has now brought a suit against SprintRay based on the breach of several European patents, granted in Germany and other countries, it’s therefore difficult to identify which of those it’s contesting. However, it has been made clear by the adjudicating Hamburg District Court, that SprintRay is no longer allowed to sell its Pro 95 and Pro 55 printers in Germany until the matter is resolved. 

EnvisionTEC's Envision One 3D printer.
Similarly to SprintRay’s Pro 3D printers, EnvisionTEC’s Envision One is often marketed towards a dental audience. Image via EnvisionTEC.

DM vs SprintRay: a dental dust-up? 

Since the injunction was issued back in August 2021, Desktop Metal had maintained radio silence on the issue, up until it was awarded an injunction earlier this week. SprintRay, on the other hand, hasn’t yet commented publicly on the ruling, but there’s certainly a degree of crossover in the target clientele of the two firms, making them market rivals and adding a layer of intrigue to proceedings. 

Operating as a subsidiary of 3D printer manufacturer SoonSer, SprintRay is a developer of additive manufacturing resins, software and post-printing systems, but its Pro 95 and Pro 55 machines represent its main products. Much like EnvisionTEC’s Envision One, these resin-based desktop systems are marketed as a “breakthrough tech” that print at “breakneck speeds,” and both sets of machines pack similar >385nm LEDs.

Due to the similarities between the companies’ DLP 3D printers, it’s hardly surprising that they’re equally marketed towards dental clientele. While SprintRay claims that its systems can bulk-print surgical guides, aligners and occlusal guards, EnvisionTEC manufactures a complete Dental iteration of its system, that it says is “perfect for 3D printing orthodontic applications, as well as full dentures.” 

There’s no doubt that EnvisionTEC, as the better-established of the two firms, has a larger market share in this area, and the injunction has therefore swung their battle for supremacy more firmly in its favor. However, it remains to be seen whether the preliminary measure will be followed up by a full trial on the contested patents, and SprintRay has yet to make its position clear on how/why it disputes them. 

SprintRay was contacted by 3D Printing Industry regarding its alleged patent breaches, but it was unavailable for comment at time of writing. 

A diagram of CELLINK's bioprinting system, taken from its patent.
A diagram taken from the customized plastic surgery 3D bioprinting robot patented by CELLINK earlier this year. Image via CELLINK.

Patent battles of the past 

In such a technologically-advanced industry, it’s not surprising that patents are seen by many in 3D printing as a vital means of preventing the loss of trade secrets, and a potential edge on their competitors. While some of the designs in these documents stretch the imagination, such as CELLINK’s bioprinting facelift robots, other patents like that gained recently by Optomec cover its core AJP process.

To make matters more complicated, such patents also tend to be quite broad by nature, making it easier for conflicts between manufacturers to arise than would otherwise be the case. In August 2021, for example, CELLINK was accused by fellow bioprinting firm Organovo of having infringed upon its Intellectual Property (IP), although these allegations were branded as “invalid” at the time. 

Elsewhere, in other cases, the lifting of patents such as that of Stratasys’ heated build chamber, have opened potential opportunities for others in the industry. When asked about the impact the patent’s expiry might have back in March, INTAMSYS said that it would enable “more innovation and lower costs,” whereas Raise3D quipped that it “doesn’t include patent expiration as a factor” in its product R&D. 

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Featured image shows the SprintRay Pro 95 and Pro 55 3D printers that are alleged to have breached Desktop Metal’s patents. Image via SprintRay.