Crowdsourcing Prior Art for 3D Printing

On Wednesday, January 23, 2013, the Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society hand-delivered its first series of Third-Party Preissuance Submissions related to 3D printing technology with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Filing on behalf of our client, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Clinic is working to keep 3D printing technology accessible to the open hardware community by challenging patent applications that threaten to inhibit innovation in this rapidly expanding industry. EFF and the Clinic reached out to the 3D printing community to crowdsource prior art references for several pending patent applications.

The effort takes advantage of a new provision in the America Invents Act (35 U.S.C. §122(e)), which permits any third party to submit any printed publication of potential relevance to the USPTO for consideration by a patent examiner. The provision is intended to aid examiners by encouraging subject-matter experts to submit otherwise difficult-to-find prior art in new technological areas.

The Clinic filed preissuance submissions for two pending patent applications, 12/687,996 and 13/043,876, related to support structure generation and curable modeling material, respectively. Both include broad patent claims that, if allowed, may adversely affect the incremental innovation occurring now in the 3D printing community. The Clinic filed the submissions in person at the USPTO campus in Alexandria, VA.

The filing coincided with the USPTO’s first Additive Manufacturing Partnership Meeting. There, several industry participants, including Stratasys, 3D Systems, and Makerbot, met with patent examiners to discuss recent technological developments and industry trends. Supervisor Kit Walsh and student Charlie Stiernberg also attended to speak with Patent Office officials and members of the 3D printing community.

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