In what could prove to be a setback for Afinia and the 3D printing community as a whole, news has come out regarding potential evidence in the Stratasys lawsuit against Afinia, the brand behind the widely popular H-Series line of 3D printers. The U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) body responsible for examining the validity of existing patents, has denied Afinia’s request to review the validity of three patents being brought up in the lawsuit between the two companies.
In November of 2013, 3D printing leader Stratasys brought their lawsuit against Afinia, the 3D printing division of Microboards Technology LLC, “seeking injunctive relief and damages” and claiming that the printer brand had infringed on four of the company’s patents related to “part porosity, liquefier structure, temperature control and tool paths for constructing part perimeters.” Afinia responded by arguing that Stratasys was attempting a monopoly on the market and misusing the patent system to do so. As the case progressed, the judge tossed out one of the patents in the case, related to infill, due to Afinia’s claim that Stratasys had actually re-patented this technology, having previously patented it once before.
A press release put out by Stratasys today states that the PTAB will not be performing an inter partes review of the other three patents in the case, saying that Afinia “has not demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of prevailing.” Stratasys suggests in its press release that this is significant in that the PTAB only denies 25% of the inter partes reviews requested. Soonhee Jang, Stratasys Vice President and Chief IP Counsel, said of the news, “We are very pleased with the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s decision. These dismissals are evidence of the strength of our patent portfolio.”
The case is far from over, as the trial won’t even begin until December of this year. Though Stratasys boasts the PTAB inter partes review denial, the 3D printing community may not take the news so positively. Before the desktop 3D printing boom that began in 2012, the most affordable FDM printer made by Stratasys was the Mojo, priced at almost $10,000. The boom, however, drove the prices of extrusion printers down until printers were being released for under $200, sometimes even $100. The open source and affordable nature of these machines, some might argue, is almost entirely responsible for the current 3D printing revolution taking place. If Afinia does not come out on top in the upcoming trial, this could be an omen for the rest of the industry, as Stratasys could take their case to other FFF 3D printers around the world in order to dominate the space. The results of such an outcome may not be clear at this early stage, but don’t bode well for personal and distributed manufacturing. In other words, I’m taking sides in this case and it’s hard for me not to voice which side that is.
To read more about the PTAB decision, view the .pdf here.