Patent Trolls and 3D Printing Software

One of the downsides of the growth of 3D printing is that it will give patent trolls something new to feast upon.  If you think that one reason we get trolls is that the PTO does not understand a new technology and grants patents that should not be granted, then 3D printing is ripe for the plucking.

Let’s look at this from the perspective of software.  (Hardware provides more legitimate opportunities for 3D printer patents.)  At present, the 3D printing community operates on an open-source software premise.  Some folks, though, will eventually go to the PTO seeking software patents.  Almost all of these applications should be rejected.  Very few 3D software files will be novel or nonobvious. Many of them will just be scans of actual objects.  Others will be drawings that an ordinary person skilled in the art could do.  Even if something is patentable, the patent should be quite narrow.

Will the patent examiners understand this?  I’m kind of skeptical.  And those patents are likely to cause trouble for years to come.

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6 Responses

  1. Do you mean design patents? Or are you envisioning claims that look like: “A method of creating item x by sending instructions to create item x to a 3D printer?” What would a software claim look like?

    I think the bigger issue for 3D software is the software that makes the printers run. Should those patents be allowed?

  2. Gerard Magliocca says:

    Right, I am referring to the software that makes the printers run.

  3. But why are these based on scans? Wouldn’t that software include managing data to determine how best to convert it to the 3D platform, including color management? I’m not advocating for any patentability, but I don’t know why we would say they are non-novel as a matter of course. Was there some prior software that did the same thing?

    Maybe we mean different things by “run.” It seems like you mean the CAD file that instructs the printer what to print. That’s not what I meant by “run.”

  4. Gerard Magliocca says:

    Well, maybe I don’t understand what you mean by run.

    Basically, there is a standard software template for scans. So any particular scan should not generally lead to a nonobvious program.

  5. I agree with that. By “run,” I mean the operating software of the printer. The software that never changes, and makes the printer go. Maybe there isn’t any such software, and it is embedded in the template – I don’t know enough about the design.

    I wouldn’t even call the template software, quite frankly. It’s more like a data file. But that’s just me.

  6. Terri E. says:

    Unfortunately the patent on this new 3D printer device software will face many issues, I say this because the technology in the printer is used in many forms from industrial designs to jewelry, the issue will not only be with the copyright of the software but the copyright of the objects that are being produced by these new Era 3D printers. In the article on called: “Legal issues” threaten rise of 3D printing. The authors explains that the 3D printer violated several copyright and insurance claims. As I read in an earlier blog post on your site, you stated that the 3D printer can make copies of drug paraphernalia or weapons, would we be held accountable for the drugs we created using these printers, or would it be the reasonablitity of the company who created the printers, if someone created a weapon and used it in murder, or terrorist were to project weapons of mass destructions using the printers and its software. He also states when projecting objects using these printers that the issue we the consumers will face, is how much of the material can we actually steal from the person who legal created the object. Just as when we are downloading music from certain websites it is legal to share files that are protected. Evenmore so wouldn’t the company of these printers be taking away the right of the copyright holders of the products that being duplicated of whom is allowed to distribute and share their products? Honestly the 3D printers raise many issues and legal problems.