Tag Archives: Electronic Frontier Foundation

3D Printing Patents: EFF Fights Patent Trolls For Future Innovation

3D Printing Patents

EFF Seeks to Invalidate 6 Basic 3D Printing Patents

Following through with a statement made in October, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published an intention to invalidate 6 pending patents by collecting prior art from the crowd.

Here is their announcement:

If there’s something that drives us crazy, it’s when patents get in the way of innovation. Unfortunately, we often don’t find out about the most dangerous patents until it’s too late—once they’ve been used to assert infringement. That’s why we were encouraged by the new provision of the patent law that allows third parties to easily challenge patent applications while those applications are still pending.

But, here’s the rub: it’s hard to identify those dangerous applications. And, once you do, it’s even harder to find the right information to challenge those applications during the window that the law allows. So we partnered with the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and Ask Patents and—most importantly—you.

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.

Here are copies of what we submitted to the Patent Office. The good news is that so far, the Patent Office has accepted our submissions (because of that, if you’re thinking of making your own preissuance submissions, you might want to use these as a model). Now we wait to see whether our input influences the examiners.

Our work doesn’t stop here. Next we’re going to investigate a number of pending applications that impact mesh networking technology—another area with an extremely active open development community and with tremendous potential. We’ll be asking you to help us again soon. Stay tuned!

Each of the 6 3D printing patents listed above has a link requesting prior art. The EFF is harnessing the power the crowd to complete their mission.

Can New 3D Printing Patents Be Challenged? EFF Says Yes.

Electronic Frontier Foundation 3D Printing

Earlier this month, we reported that a 3D printing patent had been issued to create a DRM-like layer around printable goods. This is just one of many patents that will be prosecuted around the emerging 3D printing revolution. Ironically, however, the technology itself is 30 years old and may be subject to “prior art” that invalidates any recently filed patents.

This is the hope of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a donor-supported organization that works to protect fundamental rights regardless of technology. Here is an excerpt from EFF’s blog.

Thanks to the open hardware community, you can now have a 3D printer in your home for just a few hundred dollars, with dozens of printer models to choose from and build upon. Community-designed printers already outclass proprietary printers costing 30 times as much. This incredible innovation is possible because the core patents covering 3D printing technologies started expiring several years ago, allowing projects such as RepRap to prove what we already knew—that openness often outperforms the patent system at spurring innovation.

Open hardware printers have been used for rapid prototyping of new inventions, to print replacement parts for household objects and appliances, by DIY scientists to turn a power drill into a centrifuge, for a game in which you can engineer your own pieces, and for thousands of other purposes by makers of all stripes. Projects like MakerBot and Solidoodle have made 3D printers accessible on a plug-and-play basis, so you don’t even need a soldering iron to start manufacturing objects you designed or downloaded from the internet. As additional patents expire, the open hardware community will be able to unleash its creative spirit on new technologies, technologies that have already been used to design custom prosthetics, guitars, shoes, and more. The possibilities are limitless.

The Problem

While many core patents restricting 3D printing have expired or will soon expire, there is a risk that “creative” patent drafting will continue to lock up ideas beyond the 20-year terms of those initial patents or that patents will restrict further advances made by the open hardware community. The incremental nature of innovation in 3D printing makes it particularly unsuitable for patenting, as history has shown.

The Project

We’ve said before that the America Invents Act failed to address many of the patent system’s worst problems. Despite that, it does include at least one provision we think could be helpful: the newly implemented Preissuance Submission procedure. That procedure allows third parties to participate in the patent application process by creating a vehicle to provide patent examiners with prior art. We’re glad to see the Patent Office open up the process to those who might not be filing patents themselves, but who are affected by the patent system everyday. We’re also glad that this new process may help stem the tide of improvidently-granted patents.

EFF and the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society are working together to use this new process to challenge patent applications that particularly threaten growing 3D printing technologies. As a first step, we are evaluating 3D printing patent applications currently pending before the Patent Office to identify potential target applications.We need your help! If you know of any applications covering 3D printing technology that you think should be challenged, please let us know by emailing 3Dprinting@eff.org (and also point us to any relevant prior art you might know about).

To get involved with the search, go to the USPTO’s application search toolPAIR, and/or Google Patents. Each of these sources contains valuable details about the applications currently pending before the USPTO.  Here’s the thing: under the current rules, a patent application may only be challenged by a Preissuance Submission within six months of its publication (or before the date of the first rejection, if that comes later). This means the clock is already ticking on the current crop of patent applications.

Once target applications are identified, we will seek out relevant prior art. We’ll be asking for your help again then, so please watch this space. Any document that was publicly available before an application was filed is considered prior art; this can include emails to public lists, websites, and even doctoral theses. Because of the time limit, once we identify the target applications, we must complete the prior art search quickly.

We’re glad there’s a new way to to challenge dangerous patent applications before they become dangerous patents. But the America Invents Act and the search capabilities of the Patent Office’s website won’t make this job easy. We need your help to get this done, so please do what you can to help protect the 3D printing community from overbroad patents that can threaten exciting innovation.


Horizon photo by Norma Desmond used under Creative Commons license.