Tuesday, 27 November 2012

3D Systems to democratize stereolithography

As 3D Systems sues both Formlabs and Kickstarter over patents controlling access to stereolithography, they set up a nice contradiction by celebrating 25 years of stereolithography innovation claiming that 3D Systems is "... excited by, and committed to, democratizing access to 3D printing for both the non-expert professional user and the hobbyist/consumer market over time."

This is precisely FormLabs' mission.

3D Systems and Chuck Hull are clearly proud of their stereolithography but the company could have chosen to bring lower cost products to the market years ago.

Should 3D Systems stand down from their legal action and give the talented and young team at FormLabs a chance? It's been over two decades. Patents have expired or are expiring. A new generation of makers with us, eager to take Chuck's pioneering work to the next level. Should he let them?

Did 3D Systems keep the price of stereolithography artificially high?  Or did they simply miss the significance of the larger potential market created by the commoditization of 3D Printing?

No one yet knows who will win out in the legal case. Does it mark the end for FormLabs, or will they allow themselves to be acquired by 3D Systems? Could it be that the patent does not apply to the mechanism behind the FORM-1? Or were 3D Systems about to announce new lower cost SLA machines of their own? Did they need a little more time and chose to use their financial muscle to hold the young upstart FormLabs at bay?

Whatever the substance of this stereolithography patent wrangle turns out to be, is it possible that FormLabs innovated in other ways? Do core science and engineering patents always trump every other factor?

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