A 3D printer project developed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which raised funds through a Kickstarter project is being sued by 3D Systems. The Formlabs Form 1 3D printer raised almost $3million from 2,000 Kickstarter users which promised a Form 1 printer to all those who pledged more than $2,299. Both Formlabs and Kickstarter themselves are named in the 3D Systems suit, the latter due to the fact that the fundraising site takes a 5% cut of whatever is raised.
3D Systems holds many patents related to stereolithography where a UV (ultraviolet) laser is shined across a liquid synthetic material causing a thin layer to harden. This is then repeated layer-by-layer until the object is formed by the laser following a defined pattern of movements.
3D Systems solved a major problem with this technique by developing a method of ensuring that each layer did not need to be completed before moving to the next one. This prevents areas not solidifying properly due to a feature being too thin and the object losing its shape. 3D Systems were awarded a patent for this method in 1997.
Stereolithography offers better quality of completed printed objects that a regular 3D printer due to the higher accuracy of the method compared to a nozzle printing melted plastic. These extruded plastic 3D printers are not suitable for many professional design studios so Formlabs hopes to tempt professional designers to their 3D printer as it’s able to produce higher quality results.
This means you can print complex geometries with the exquisite details and beautiful surface finish that will make your creations stand out. – Formlabs
Stereolithography machines, like 3D Systems products, tend to be at the higher end of the market often costing 10′s of thousands of dollars. The price of the Form 1 printer was said to be less than $3,000 and some industry analysts believe that Formlabs could take sales away from 3D Systems.
One of Formlabs’ co-founders was believed to have said that one of the reasons they had been able to offer its printer at such a low cost had been because several patents had expired “meaning that the team didn’t need to pay high licensing fees to get this product to market”. 3D Systems has said that this means that Formlabs must have known, or not bothered to research, whether they were at risk of patent infringement.