Never nice when things get ‘icky’ but that’s what is happening Stateside in the 3D printing industry. Today, Stratasys Inc., the North American-based subsidiary of Stratasys Ltd. has released a press release stating that it has brought a lawsuit for patent infringement against Afinia, a division of Microboards Technology LLC, in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. Afinia has a license to produce the hardware in the US from Chinese company Delta Micro Factory Corporation, which is the OEM for the popular UP! 3D printer range via PP3DP and a host of global distributors.
According to Stratasys, who released the press release within an hour of filing the lawsuit, the action “is seeking injunctive relief and damages for infringement of four of its 3D printing patents” alleging “that Afinia’s sale, promotion and use of its Series H printer infringes patents directed to part porosity, liquefier structure, temperature control and tool paths for constructing part perimeters.”
Among the many questions that spring to mind, the predominant one is why ….. Why Afinia? Why now?
David Reis, Stratasys Ltd’s CEO goes some way to explain, when he says: “IP infringement discourages companies from investing in innovation. Stratasys pioneered 3D printing, and invests millions of dollars each year to develop our technologies. In 2012 alone, Stratasys Ltd invested $33.3 million or 9.3 percent of its revenues in R&D. We intend to protect that investment.”
It’s hard to argue against that in commercial terms, and if the infringements are proved, then one can only speculate that Stratasys — who also states that “this is the first time that Stratasys has commenced an action for infringement of its patents” in 20+ years, in direct contrast to their closest competition — is throwing down a gauntlet to the many, MANY other 3D printer companies that have developed and commercialised products using FFF technology in the last five years. This action has huge implications.
Depending on the outcome of this suit, this could potentially be the start of some sort of cull across the 3D printing landscape?
Ever an optimist, I seriously hope not, but I just have a niggling suspicion! The goal posts have moved dramatically in the last five years, and got a whole lot more serious. I imagine this will be a major talking point at Euromold next week — it’s certainly at the top of my list of questions!