Final 12 months we reported how Torbjørn Ludvigsen, the inventor of the HangPrinter, had launched a authorized problem in opposition to the U.S. Division of Vitality’s (DoE) Oak Ridge Nationwide Laboratory’s (ORNL) ‘SkyBAAM’ 3D printing patent.
Now, in an replace, it seems the protection in opposition to the patent sought by ORNL has succeeded. Ludvigsen writes, “[USPTO has] rejected all of the patent’s unique claims. They accepted a narrower model of them.”
The case goes again to 2014 when the HangPrinter, an open-source FFF delta-style 3D printer that operates with no body, was first publicized following Ludvigsen’s work with the RepRap venture. Quick-forward to January 2022, when a patent utility from 2018 was accredited for Sky Huge Space Additive Manufacturing or ‘SkyBAAM’ know-how.
In October 2022, Ludvigsen submitted an ex parte reexamination request to the US Patent and Trademark Workplace (USPTO), sending their evaluation and requesting that ORNL’s patent be reexamined. In January 2023, the applying for reexamination was granted, with the USPTO agreeing that Ludvigsen’s prior artwork and evaluation raised a brand new query of patentability.
A quick historical past of the HangPrinter patent battle
The ORNL is run, managed, and operated as a federally funded analysis and improvement middle. In early 2022, a group of engineers at ORNL had their utility to patent their SkyBAAM know-how accredited by the USPTO. SkyBAAM employs a cable-hoisted extruder to 3D print large-scale buildings.
ORNL’s patent shortly drew criticism from open-source advocates resembling Dr. Joshua Pearce and RepRap Founder Dr. Adrian Bowyer. Of their criticism of the SkyBAAM patent, each Pearce and Bowyer highlighted the similarities between SkyBAAM and the HangPrinter.
Following a profitable crowdfunding marketing campaign which raised 196,696 Swedish Kronor, Ludvigsen was capable of rent authorized illustration and efficiently problem ORNL’s patent with the USPTO. In a lately printed weblog put up, Ludvigsen shared that the USPTO largely agreed along with his problem, rejecting the unique claims of ORNL’s patent, and accepting revised claims which don’t cowl any of the prevailing HangPrinters.
“I used to be pleasantly shocked by simply how slim the claims had turn out to be,” commented Ludvigsen. “This patent case was not meant to expel for-profit firms from the neighborhood. It was fought to make room for extra of them by ensuring there’s loads of low hanging fruit left that everyone and no person owns.”
Ludvigsen added that he’s wanting ahead to increasing “the world of open supply by persevering with to provide my HangPrinter developments as items to everybody, and by preserving the neighborhood open.”
The SkyBAAM controversy
ORNL’s unique SkyBAAM patent outlined the design for a concrete 3D printer with a nozzle mounted to a sequence of pulleys. These pulleys have been designed to be managed by three or extra base stations, permitting the nozzle to be deployed in mid-air. Inside this patent, two base stations have been designated to regulate actions alongside the X and Y axes, with the third used to offer rigidity management.
ORLN’s SkyBAAM group claimed that their design provided price, lead-time, and effectivity advantages, with out requiring “intensive website preparation,” one thing which has “prevented on-site additive manufacturing from turning into commercially viable.”
Nevertheless Ludvigsen, together with Bowyer and Pearce, quickly started to query the validity of the SkyBAAM patent. First mentioned on-line in 2014, the HangPrinter considerably predates the SkyBAAM. That includes a ceiling suspended printhead, the HangPrinter was designed to make large-scale free kind 3D printing extra accessible.
Chatting with 3D Printing Trade final 12 months, Dr. Bowyer said that at the least 13 of the SkyBAAM’s 20 claims are additionally current within the HangPrinter. Bowyer additionally highlighted how the ORNL patent displays a wider 3D printing pattern, whereby “trolls are trying to patent issues which might be already established within the open-source neighborhood,” in a approach that “inhibits innovation in each trade.”
In the end, Bowyer known as the patent “invalid,” provided that “not one of the claims are novel” and the SkyBAAM’s options could be seen within the HangPrinter.
Pearce, an Educational Engineer at Western College and developer of a sub-$1,000 PEKK 3D printer, additionally pinpointed the similarities between the 2 designs, arguing that the ORNL patent ought to by no means have been awarded. “In the event you learn the patent, the issue they have been making an attempt to resolve was the way to do away with the gantry techniques for big building-style 3D printing. They did this by copying the open-source Hangprinter idea, solely scaling it up and utilizing concrete as an alternative of plastic.”
“Patents are alleged to be for non-obvious innovations,” added Pearce, who claimed that the tweaks made for the SkyBAAM could be apparent to “anybody even remotely acquainted with building and the Hangprinter idea.”
Ludvigsen’s crowdfunding efforts
To problem ORLN’s SkyBAAM patent, Ludvigsen launched a ‘Assist Preserve Hangprinter Free’ crowdfunding marketing campaign to pay for authorized bills. Initially aiming to boost 600,000 Swedish Kronor (round $61,000), the 196,696 Swedish Kronor Ludvigsen acquired was nonetheless “far more consideration and funding” than he had anticipated.
By means of this funding, and due to assist from the Digital Frontier Basis (EFF) and the Public Curiosity Patent Legislation Institute (PIPLUIS), Ludvigsen employed an IP lawyer for 59,906 Swedish Kronor ($5,500 USD).
“This lawyer did completely all the pieces doable to invalidate or severely slim the patent although an ex parte reexamination course of. Together with clearing up the misunderstanding that prior artwork wanted to be greater than a 12 months older than the patent utility,” said Ludvigsen. “This improved the claims mapping significantly. He wrote the ultimate evaluation and dealt with the infinite back- and-forth with the USPTO whereas patiently answering my questions alongside the best way.”
Having additionally paid 35,351 Swedish Kronor ($3,150) in USPTO charges, Ludvigsen has confirmed that he nonetheless has 95,000 Swedish Kronor, or $9,000 USD, left over from the crowdfunding marketing campaign. Ludvigsen states that these funds will probably be utilized in his ongoing mission to “Preserve HangPrinting Free,” and to “make sure that we’re higher ready subsequent time round.”
The authorized problem
While Ludvigsen states that “all claims have been rejected,” and the USPTO’s evaluation was “largely consistent with ours,” he does notice that by way of the reexamination process “the patent holder will get the final phrase.” As such, ORNL’s request for the creation of a “narrowed down” patent was accepted.
“Not one of the current Hangprinters are coated by the revised claims. They now cowl just one particular design path, constructing upon Hangprinter,” explains Ludvigsen.
In the end, Ludvigsen states that the brand new claims are “straightforward to work round” and largely undesirable, with the revised patent closing off “a wholly uninteresting design path.” Furthermore, the narrowed patent solely covers 3D printers that possess all of the outlined options on the similar time.
“If you end up desirous to implement 1 or 2 or 3 of these options, you then don’t have to fret concerning the patent. Make a slight deviation, a tiny angle or one thing, and you’ll in all probability have all 4,” defined Ludvigsen. “That is in distinction to earlier than, while you couldn’t have even 1 of these options. If an anchor was thought-about to do “rigidity management”, then even current Hangprinters, and nearly any associated machine design, was coated by the previous patent.”
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Featured picture reveals Torbjørn Ludvigsen’s Hangprinter. Photograph through Torbjørn Ludvigsen.