One of the reasons why 3D printing is suddenly on the cusp of going mainstream is the expiration of some key patents that have held the technology back for decades.
May 1, 2013
And yet, of course, with any area of the market that is getting hot, there is suddenly a rush to get more patents. In fact, we’ve already seen a few patent fights begin concerning the new generation of 3D printing companies. Recently, the EFF has decided to try to try to put a stop to a series of patent applications that, if granted, would have the potential to again hold back the 3D printing market even further.
As of today, we’ve now challenged six pending patent applications that you helped us identify as applications that, if granted, would particularly threaten the growing field of 3D printing technology. Harvard’s Cyberlaw Clinic hand delivered the first two submissions to the Patent Office earlier this year, and we’ve since sent in four more.
The prior art we’ve submitted so far thanks to your submissions ranges from patents and blog posts to research papers and symposium proceedings. Each prior art document gives the Patent Office tools to reject patent claims for obviousness. That in turn helps protect the diverse, exciting uses of 3D printing that are gaining in popularity each day, from small hobbyist printers to large-scale, high-quality commercial fabrication using materials ranging from titanium to chocolate.
Hopefully, they’ll be able to hold off the worst, and we can see a new industry develop cleanly, without too many patent fights, or too many such issues holding back further development in the space.
It really is quite incredible to see such a clear case of patents hindering key innovations. The market is developing today not because of patents, but because people see the demand in the market and the opportunities to provide something. We have a competitive market, where different providers seek to out-innovate each other, not because of the ability to get patents, but because of the nature of competition and the desire to provide for an emerging and compelling market. Hopefully that spirit of innovation won’t get stamped out due to bad patents.