Makerbot blatantly steals and patents a community design.

The original quick release extruder by whpthomas

In a stunning display of madness, makerbot industries files a patent application on a mechanism clearly derived from content created by their users. What’s almost worse is the article they wrote praising the invention, presumably while they were filing the paperwork.

Thing #42250 “Replicator 2 Extruder Upgrade” by whpthomas, is one of these very useful designs. It’s based on an extruder mod from Thingiverse superstar emmett, who based his design on one from another star user, whosawhatsis. The basic idea of this series of designs is to use a spring-loaded arm to squeeze the filament between the drive gear and a bearing.

After extensive testing, we’ve decided that this approach is too good to ignore. […]

We will be selling an upgrade kit that involves all the parts, including the printed part online this spring. We could have waited to tell you until we have enough to start selling them, but we decided that it would be good to tell folks about the mod.

Screencap, in case they remove the article.

Definitely too good to ignore… And apparently too good to let their competitors use as well, whatever the content creators want.

For those counting, that’s 3 separate thingiverse users (whpthomas, emmett, whosawhatsis) who presumably hold some rights to the creative commons licensed designs makerbot is patenting.

You can read the whosawhatsis’ thoughts here.

EDIT: apparently this isn’t a terribly new thing. You can read a more thorough overview of makerbots history here.

Keeping in mind that I am in no way a lawyer…

The creative common Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license. It’s a very liberal license. If makerbot was selling the designs that would be completely fine, as long as they

provide appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

But they’re not just selling it. They’re patenting it. That means they can sue anyone who tries to use a similar design or method. Not just if they use that file, but any similar methods of feeding filament.

The creative commons is very clear on what you’re allowed to do to restrict other people from using CC licensed works, namely

No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.

A patent is definitely a legal term restricting what you can do with the work. It violates the CC license, which means either any of the contributers could theoretically revoke makerbots permission to use it.

In actuality, makerbot has a large legal budget, and their terms of service probably say something about providing a license to the content anyway. They’ve used semi-legal trickery to steal thingiverse users designs, and without a large legal fund there isn’t really any recourse.

Or at least that’s my laymens understanding of the situation. Some people have suggest that the prior art will make the patent application fail. But it’s not clear one way or the other.

Reddit user obsidianechoes gives an excellent overview of how to submit a prior art claim, which may be our best shot at getting this particular patent overturned.

Makerbot has shown time and time again that they’re willing to screw over the community. Are we really that surprised? But their marketing budget and sleek design continues to convince the uninformed to buy makerbot. To add insult to injury, their printer is overpriced, has reliability problems, and compounds that with sub par support.

For me, personally, I look at a move to closed source as the ultimate betrayal. When I was forced out, it was a normal, if unfortunate, clash of wills where one person must stay and one person must go. I swallowed my ego and left, because I knew that the company I founded would carry my ideals further into the world. Regardless of our differences, I had assumed that Bre would continue to follow the principles that we founded the company on, and the same principles that played a major part in the success of our company. Moving from an open model to a closed model is contrary to everything that I stand for, and as a co-founder of MakerBot Industries, it makes me ashamed to have my name associated with it.

Zach Hoeken – MakerBot vs. Open Source – A Founder Perspective

A lulzbot taz

With apologies to Zach for continuing to associate his name with it.

Makerbot is an increasingly toxic company, and stealing designs so openly frankly implies that their management has their heads up their asses. But as long as non-technical people continue to be won over by marketing hype and pretty cases they’re going to continue to drag us down. Not surprising from a company that sat on the patents that make modern 3D printing possible until they expired, freeing us up for the current 3D printing revolution. It demonstrates how a few well placed patents can cause an entire industry to stagnate.

I’m disappointed more people don’t go with the rock solid designs of lulzbot or makertoolsworks, companies that seem to be able to make a profit without employing anti-competitive practices.

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15 Responses to Makerbot blatantly steals and patents a community design.

  1. I agree that this is a very anti-Open Source move by Makerbot.

    However, it should be made clear that Copyright based licenses such as Creative Commons can not legally protect functional physical designs, Copyright could only apply to the design files describing the design. This is a major hole in the Open Source Hardware license model.

    Copyright could apply to a physical design if it is purely aesthetic, e.g. a statue, but generally speaking functional components can only be protected by patent.

    Open Source Hardware designs, if published and preferably demonstrated before filing, should count as prior art, but patent offices seem to let anything through, and let concerned parties sue each other later.

    There is a desperate need to reform the broken patent system, and establish a legally based trust for Open Source Hardware designs to prevent this sort of IP theft.

    Kudos to Lulzbot, they are one of the few companies committed to a true Open Source license, and not a “fake Open Source” non-commercial license, like many others use.

    • firebombzero says:

      The patent system cannot be reformed. It is being exploited by traitors who should be executed, yes, but it is fundamentally at odds with liberty and prosperity. Even though such lofty goals are merely enshrined in the founding document of this country, we should absolutely take it seriously and defend assaults against it as the grave threat to freedom it actually poses. Abolish and execute. No more treason.

      • Totally agree, patent trolls everywhere. Intellectual Venture capitalist buying up the vaguest patents they can find infuriates me. Meanwhile those IV companies are not manufacturing, selling or designing anything. Simply there to sue for profit.
        I am an inventor who struggles, trying not to get sued. You basically settle out of courts because, though you could very likely win, the litigation is just to much $$$

  2. gato says:

    this is prior art.

  3. firebombzero says:

    As that person below said, this is prior art. We need to contact the patent office and explain the details to them about it. Isn’t it about time that traitors should be dealt with appropriately? Fuck those worthless terrorists if the best they can do is exploit the good faith of their community. Perhaps execution is the proper course of action since they clearly cannot handle the basics of running a business.

    • Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer but I do hold patents and I do work as an expert witness in patent cases. Due to my work on the Web I am very familiar with similar situations. One of the reasons I work as a paid expert witness is that I have no choice in appearing in these cases because I am often an inventor of the prior art. The only choice I have is whether I get paid or not.

      The first thing to do in this particular case is to send a registered letter to Makerbot and their lawyers informing them of the prior art situation and the facts concerning the uploading of the content onto Thingiverse. This achieves two things:

      1) Makerbot has an obligation to forward the prior are statements to the examiner. Failing to do this is grounds for having the patent invalidated if a lawsuit was brought.

      2) The lawyers are on notice that the provenance of the ideas is contested. They are officers of the court and obliged to verify certain assertions they make to the court and the PTO.

      Any situation like this becomes part of the patent prosecution history and is something that someone like me loves to read.

  4. Excuse me, but that list of patents is just scary? Isn’t this the same as patenting retraction?

    • Jens, that patent isn’t trying to control retraction, per se, but rather how an extruder accepting two materials at the same time would need to retract one to allow the other to be extruded. It’s very specific to a single extruder that accepts two materials, and they actually list three very specific materials. I’m not sure if there are other patents filed by them in the same vein, but this one wouldn’t protect them against someone implementing the same functionality for a three-material extruder, except as possibly an example of prior art.

      Don’t rely on the abstract, you need to read the claims, which is what a patent really covers.

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  9. scott says:

    actually, the ‘claims’ are just the ‘specifics’ if you read the ‘detailed description’ at all, it DOES mention that it’s intent is to cover

    “The method steps of the invention(s) described herein are intended to include any suitable method of causing such method steps to be performed,[…]”

    with that statement, it turns – you pull out the material – into ‘no matter how you switch the material’

    essentially trying to make the patent cover ANY method of using a single extruder and multiple colors (they seem to be VERY specific that this should be for colors)

    also, while not a part of the claims, the ‘detailed description’ seems to be trying to extend the part about using an on-board executable code (or, per the detailed description, anything that operates in the fashion of the on-board executable code) to INCLUDE the use of a camera (and by extension, any suitable sensing device) to detect defects and automatically fix them (change heating, change speed, adjust spacing, the like)

    this patent covers WAY more than it seems to, buy using vague terms in the ‘claims’ then using the ‘detailed description’ to extend and obfuscate the claims to mean darn near anything and everything about 3d printing, and proceeds to pull anything and everything they reference as somehow supporting their claim.

  10. Dan says:

    I wasted $3,500 on a Makerbot 5th Generation printer. It was clearly a fraudulant sale, because the smart extruder was not even close to ready for primetime. It is a company led by MBA students with zero concern for customers. The shareholders have started a class action lawsuit as of 7/15.

    It is time for EVERY person screwed by Makerbot to rise up and start a class action lawsuit for full reimbursement of costs associated with every printer. I would be surprised if there is a single functional Makerbot printer out there in the community.

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