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3D Printing Patents

3D Printing Patents have been a big issue lately. In fact, there was an article in Wired where some patents that could matter were showcased: 3D Printing Patents

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Recently a we got some valuable input from a friend who is not a lawyer but has had a 40 year career in inventing and working around others' patents, with 30 patents to his own credit. He says:

"People, including the writers of the 'Wired' article, often read the abstract or description of a patent, and think everything in there is patented. Not so! This stuff needs to be there, so people can find the patent, and practice it, as the patent law requires that the invention be practiceable by one "skilled in the art" from the information contained in it. It also may contain info that will be used in related patents, or info being put in the public domain to block other patents."

"What is actually patented is only what's in the claims, and in a logically arranged fashion. Some claims are independent, and others are dependent, as you can see. If you don't infringe any independent claims, you are free of infringement, and in each independent claim, you must have all the features listed to infringe."

The Patents

Stratasys: High Temperature Modeling Apparatus, Number: 6,722,872

This is a patent for printing inside a heated enclosure.

He says: "I think the IR heater would get by the oven patent, and with proper controlling, maybe it could smooth the surfaces of the finished parts. There's another light-based way to smooth parts as well."

Furthermore: "They (the patent's claims) all refer to xzy or xy gantries. I think that your printer does not have that feature at all. Shouldn't be an infringement problem."

Now, it turns out that some plastics are clear at infrared light while others are opaque. The opaque ones will warm up better than the clear ones, so it may take adjusting the plastic formula to get IR heaters to work well.

Stratasys: Smoothing Method for Layered Deposition Modeling, Number: 8,123,999

This is a chemical method of smoothing printed plastic parts.

He says: "The soluble support material patent is quite narrow, only alkali-soluble plastics containing carboxylic acid are included. Any other alkali-soluble plastic would be OK."

"Acid soluble, solvent soluble, or water-soluble materials are OK. It would be interesting when you get the capability to make your own filaments to experiment with things like sugar and baking soda fillers. Styrofoam is very soluble in acetone, but so is ABS. There may be particular plastics that are soluble in alcohol, though."

And an IR Heater may do everything we need. It may take using special plastic that is opaque to IR frequencies so it is heated better by an IR heater. Some plastic, even black plastic that seems opaque can be clear to IR frequencies making it so they won't be warm up much, even under an infrared heater.

Stratasys: Soluble Material and Process For Three-Dimensional Modeling Number: 6,790,403

This is a patent for support material that can be chemically dissolved.

He says: "The vessel is stated to have cooling elements; no cooling elements, no infringement."

"The process is terminated by observing condensation and stopping when the condensation stops. Any other endpoint determination method would eliminate the infringement; simple timing, detection of specularity of reflection, FTIR measurement of solvent concentration in the surface of the material, etc."

Stratasys: Filament Container and Methods Of Use Thereof Number: 8,157,202

This patent covers filament on a roll that can be automatically switched.

He says: "All the claims include a sensor in the container that detects the presence of the filament and communicates with the external system when the filament runs out. If this detection is not done, or is done by an external optical sensor through a hole, for example, the patent is avoided. Nothing to do with a filament on a roll. Putting the external sensor concept into the public domain would be helpful, I think. It seems likely that a good patent attorney would have tried to get this claimed, so perhaps it's already patented elsewhere or in the public domain."

 

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