Ultimaker files its first patent

SandervG Team Ultimaker Points: 8501
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Location: Geldermalsen, Netherlands Printers: Ultimaker Original+, Ultimaker 2+
Posted by
SandervG

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 12:03 PM  

..Wait what?

Yep, that is right. Ultimaker just filed its first patent. But don’t worry, we come in peace. It won’t influence our users in any way and Ultimaker remains supportive to the open source community. We did feel it was important to be open about this and tell you exactly what is happening and why. So let’s get right to it.

What is happening?

Like the title suggests, Ultimaker filed its first patent. The patent contains the technology we know as ‘Active Bed leveling’ in the Ultimaker 3.

Feel free to grab a coffee, because this is heavy stuff. We managed to capture and summarize this feature in one comprehensive sentence:

According the present invention a print bed levelling system of the type defined in the preamble is provided, wherein the print bed levelling system comprises a nozzle head assembly movably arranged with respect to a substantially flat print bed member, the nozzle head assembly comprising one or more nozzle bodies each having a nozzle end, and a contactless sensor member disposed at a print bed engagement end of the nozzle head assembly, wherein the contactless sensor member comprises a sensing surface in sensing engagement with the print bed member over a relative sensing range between a distal sensing position and a proximal sensing distance.

- Reference: NL2015361

Owning a patent is one thing, but how we act upon it is another. This is where we feel we can continue to make a difference. Our behavior will not change, nor our attitude or how we interact with our users. But we still feel we should be open and share this with you so there will be no eerie surprises.

Why is this necessary?

So, if Ultimaker’s behavior is not going to change, why is the patent necessary? Well, with the Ultimaker 3 in particular, we are tapping into a new market of enterprises and competitors who play a whole different game. Forcing the competition out of the market through lawsuits and court is not uncommon. And we need to be prepared. Hence this defensive strategy.

For this reason, you should realize we will not enforce any of these muscles on our users. We are still the open company you have grown familiar with and we will continue to support collaborations with our users and continue to stimulate research.

At the same time, we are aware of the sensitive nature of this subject and how you might think it could affect our open nature. It won’t. Ultimaker will remain to support the open source community. A new road is ahead in which we are still busy formalizing all the challenges but we are confident we can address the needs for both you and this new corporate scene without losing our unique identity. We acknowledge our roots and we feel like we can introduce some of this openness into the corporate world. But we prefer not to do it blindfolded and vulnerable.

Next steps?

Ultimaker won’t change. Ultimaker 3 files will still be shared through our Github account like you're used to from us. Our product portfolio will continue to grow and new products will be added that will compliment your needs and/or the needs of engineers in corporate enterprises. To have a future in this new landscape, and to continue to offer you the level of service and openness you grew accustomed to, new patents will be added to our portfolio in the future. For the same defensive reasons. We will generate a separate section on our website where you can read more about them. And hopefully, we can even use this to give you some more insights in the developments that are going on within Ultimaker.

We also wrote a blog post about it, click here if you want to read that too.

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Titus Feel free to ask me Level: 40 Points: 1340
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Posted by
Titus

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 1:27 PM

Interesting, to say the least.

SandervG, can you elaborate on how a form of Creative Common Non commercial share alike license isn't enough? Does it have to do with the way you can force competitors to stop/pay you?

How is Ultimaker positioned with respect to, let's say, an Olsson leveler? In the past we have seen very good improvements to Ultimakers come from the community, and even being sold(yes, also some copies, and ofcourse China clones...). I could have a great idea to improve your product, but never move to commercial prototyping/selling because at any moment Ultimaker can kill the company/investment.

How will the files be put on github, i.e. licensing?

Why UM3 leveling? What else are you guys planing to patent, existing techniques, new unknown techniques?

Payson Getting started Level: 9 Points: 91
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Location: Santa Cruz, United States Printers: Ultimaker 2, Ultimaker 2+
Posted by
Payson

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 1:54 PM

I trust that Ultimaker will stay true to its roots. With that being said the fact that a "defensive strategy" had to be put in place to protect an open company is a bit disconcerting, and could be seen as a lack of faith in the power of community driven, open source, creative commons based approach to business. Can you provided some words to reinforce my confidence that this will not start a process of erosion that could undermine a foundation built on openness?

ultiarjan Ultimaker family Level: 84 Points: 6666
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Posted by
ultiarjan

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 2:01 PM

Well, ofc I know very little about patents, but I guess in general patents hugely block innovation. Defensive or not.

But I have a lot of trust in Ultimaker, so It may be a necessary evil in today's world, which does not make it a good thing.

We won’t be initiating patent lawsuits against anyone who uses our technology in good faith – for example, for personal use, research or small business development.

Statements like this in the blog post do leave a lot of room for interpretation to say the least...

flowalistik Moderator Points: 548
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Location: Paris, France Printers: Ultimaker Original+, Ultimaker 2+
Posted by
flowalistik

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 2:27 PM

As a designer whose 3D models have been stolen and sold for years, I understand Ultimaker. Even more considering the amount of effort and money they've put into their 3D printers.

Also, I saw it coming since the day I got my Ultimaker 3. The difference between the UM2 and UM3 is much bigger than it may look, at least for me. Yes, this is a superficial point of view, but I see a big difference in terms of design and product refinement between my first Prusa i3 (which is still working) compared to an UM3.

This said, I don't like patents, they're evil, they turn you into a Sith. I trust Ultimaker, and I hope that any step they take towards the dark side is just to avoid potential problems. Please Ultimaker, don't mess everything up. You've got enough examples of what NOT to do just in the 3D printing industry.

(Sorry for the Star Wars references)

ultiarjan Ultimaker family Level: 84 Points: 6666
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Posted by
ultiarjan

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 3:04 PM • Edited 3:04 PM

the first example that comes to mind;

Anyone here who watched "print the legend" and did not think Avi Reichental was the asshole and Formlabs were the good guys?    don't become the assholes.

closer to home;  let's say BCN (or anyone) will get inspired by the Ultimaker Auto  Leveling (I probably need to read the patent as I don't jet understand whats new about it..) and implements an improved version that's even much more betterer .... will you think he, let's make it bettererer ourself or will you be assholes... thats the big question for the future.

G
geert_2 Feel free to ask me Level: 34 Points: 969
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Posted by
G
geert_2

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 3:20 PM

The problem with Creative Commons licences is that they basically only apply to creative artwork. It is a sort of copyright protection. So it has to be *art*.

Copyright does not apply to technical stuff. Although a lot of people do attach a CC-licence to their technical designs. But this has very little legal value: it can only serve as an indication that your invention existed at that time. If I understood things well...

The only way to protect technical inventions, is by a patent. And if you don't protect your own invention, then a competitor can. Then the cost is on you to prove that that patent is malicious, and that you were earlier, which can be extremely difficult and costly.

So I do understand the need to protect your rights and inventions against abuse from malicious big competitors with a huge budget. But there is still the possibility that a future management might see things different than the current management. For example when the company would be taken over. Who would resist a multibillion dollar offer?

I am not sure, but I think it is possible to write into a patent that its use will be free forever for everyone. Or for non-commercial purposes only, or so. Then I guess that clause would have legal value? But I am no lawyer... Anyway, it is something you might want to have a look at?

This will always be a very difficult balance.

nallath Team Ultimaker Points: 4781
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Posted by
nallath

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 3:45 PM

Quote by Titus

SandervG, can you elaborate on how a form of Creative Common Non commercial share alike license isn't enough? Does it have to do with the way you can force competitors to stop/pay you?

Because creative commons is about design copyright. Creative commons only protects the design of the machine. It does nothing with regards to patents (who are technological in nature).

Quote by Titus

I could have a great idea to improve your product, but never move to commercial prototyping/selling because at any moment Ultimaker can kill the company/investment.

As far as I understood this, nothing will change. There is just an aditional bit of IP that UM can use to protect itself or force open source ness (Same as we did with Cura, which forces others to be open source. This is only possible because we have that IP)

Quote by Titus

Why UM3 leveling? What else are you guys planing to patent, existing techniques, new unknown techniques?

As you can read in the blog post, this is not the only thing that's going on. This just happend to be the first patent to be "done"

ultiarjan Ultimaker family Level: 84 Points: 6666
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Posted by
ultiarjan

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 3:48 PM

for comparison...

https://www.tesla.com/...atent-are-belong-you

so from the Tesla text;

Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

from the Ultimaker blog;

We won’t be initiating patent lawsuits against anyone who uses our technology in good faith – for example, for personal use, research or small business development.

Looks to me Tesla want's to spread technology, Ultimaker seems more limiting...

nallath Team Ultimaker Points: 4781
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Posted by
nallath

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 3:51 PM

Quote by Payson

I trust that Ultimaker will stay true to its roots.

I share the same trust & hope.

Quote by Payson

With that being said the fact that a "defensive strategy" had to be put in place to protect an open company is a bit disconcerting, and could be seen as a lack of faith in the power of community driven, open source, creative commons based approach to business.

This has nothing to do with a lack of faith in comunity driven, but in the "harsh" world that we live in. Being sued for a patent infringement is all to real. Having patents to "strike back" is one of the best ways to prevent the law suits in the first place. The comparison that comes to mind is the MAD situation of the cold war. Noone wants the patent war, as it only has losers.

Also note that the only reason that we can enforce AGPL on most of our source code is because we have (on large parts of) the IP on the source code.

I'd also ask you to have a look at the open software foundation (which Ultimaker is a part of). That is an organisation that is aimed to protect Linux and uses patents as a defensive pool.

nallath Team Ultimaker Points: 4781
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Posted by
nallath

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 3:53 PM

Quote by geert_2

I am not sure, but I think it is possible to write into a patent that its use will be free forever for everyone.

Nope. A patent only describes the invention. What you do with it (and how you enforce this) is outside of the scope of a patent.

nallath Team Ultimaker Points: 4781
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Posted by
nallath

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 3:55 PM

Quote by ultiarjan

for comparison...

https://www.tesla.com/...atent-are-belong-you

so from the Tesla text;

Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

from the Ultimaker blog;

We won’t be initiating patent lawsuits against anyone who uses our technology in good faith – for example, for personal use, research or small business development.

Looks to me Tesla want's to spread technology, Ultimaker seems more limiting...

I think the extra bit on our end is only meant to provide some examples in which cases we definitively will not do anything. So if anything, our description is less vague than that of Tesla.

LePaul Becoming an expert Level: 56 Points: 2715
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Location: Bangor, Maine, United States Printers: Ultimaker 2+
Posted by
LePaul

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 4:16 PM

So will this lead to all the other 3D printer manufacturers creating "defensive" patents?

Because this industry has exploded in growth and development due to expired patents.

It seems a little ominous to see the patents beginning to reappear.

nallath Team Ultimaker Points: 4781
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Posted by
nallath

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 4:33 PM • Edited 4:36 PM

Quote by LePaul

So will this lead to all the other 3D printer manufacturers creating "defensive" patents?

Because this industry has exploded in growth and development due to expired patents.  

It seems a little ominous to see the patents beginning to reappear.

Re-appear? They never left. A few patents expired, but the number of patents in 3D printing have grown quite a bit the past few years.

As much as I dislike the concept of a Patent (due to various reasons), it is, however it pains me to say it, a necessary evil. At the moment there are two ways to defend yourself against other companies on the area of technology;

A. Publish everything you do.

B. Get a number of patents so you can "counter sue"

Both of the options have their own advantages and disadvantages. Lets start with the publishing. By publishing everything you get protection, as a patent can not be awarded if it isn't "Novel". So if you publish something and someone tries to patent that tomorrow, the patent should not be awarded in the first place. There is a small problem there; How can a single person in the patent office search through all knowledge available to man? That's right, he / she can't. So it will happen that patents are awarded, even though they aren't novel. This is especially the case in America, where the patent office puts a whole lot less effort in the process compared to Europe.

The problem with this approach is that you can never prevent a lawsuit, as you don't have any bargaining chips. You can only try and prove (in the courtroom) that the patents of the opposition should not have been awarded in the first place. This is an expensive (and risky!) situation. You also run the risk that if you forget to publish something (or described it wrong) that it does not invalidate the patent of the other party.

So on to the Patent approach. The main disadvantage of this is it's cost. It's rather expensive to write and apply a patent. Holding on to a patent becomes more expensive the closer you get to the max term.

It does provide a distinct advantage; Counter suits. If the "opposion" sees that you have a large pile of patents, it is much less likely to pick a fight with you, as they might also be infringing a patent that you own. It can even be that company A sues company B for a single (minor) patent infringement, only to be sued for dozens of other patent infringements. You can of course debate the morality or correctness of this system, but it is how this works.

This "warchest" way of "wielding" patents is also used by the "Open Inovation Network". All members have signed a non-agression clause with respect to eachother regarding Linux and all members can use the patents in the network to defend themselves if needed. This would not have been needed if the patent system was not there in the first place, but it's there and not playing the game is simply not an option.

ErikDeBruijn Team Ultimaker Points: 264
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Posted by
ErikDeBruijn

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 4:50 PM

Quote by LePaul

So will this lead to all the other 3D printer manufacturers creating "defensive" patents?

Because this industry has exploded in growth and development due to expired patents.  

It seems a little ominous to see the patents beginning to reappear.

Unfortunately this is already a reality. Ignoring the matter and not making a statement is not a sustainable practice.

While these are not easy choices to make, we appreciate your understanding. We want to make a much greater impact tomorrow than we do today. Your support helps make this happen.

SandervG Team Ultimaker Points: 8501
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Posted by
SandervG

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 5:01 PM

Well I guess Nallath did a great job in answering most of the questions and concerns that were shared here. Thanks! It is a new step / strategy for Ultimaker so it makes sense it raises some questions. Keep them coming Titus, did it answer your question? To be clear, with the fear of repeating myself, this is in no way meant to limit our innovation or will influence how we interact with our community.

Nallath also made a strong reference to the "Open Invention Network" Check it out.

Quote by geert_2

I am not sure, but I think it is possible to write into a patent that its use will be free forever for everyone. Or for non-commercial purposes only, or so. Then I guess that clause would have legal value? But I am no lawyer... Anyway, it is something you might want to have a look at?

This will always be a very difficult balance.

This was also mostly addressed already (To get back on your previous request for reconsideration, the warranty-statement is being looked at and I heard some good things). I think the following statement and intention regarding this thread should be pretty clear regarding our intentions:

from the Ultimaker blog;

We won’t be initiating patent lawsuits against anyone who uses our technology in good faith – for example, for personal use, research or small business development.
Y
yellowshark I got this! Level: 47 Points: 1871
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Posted by
Y
yellowshark

Posted Feb 28, 2017 - 7:23 PM

Do not forget that patents stopped the development of an Ultimaker and other RepRap style printers until just a few years ago when the patents ran out

DidierKlein Moderator Points: 9205
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Posted by
DidierKlein

Posted Mar 1, 2017 - 2:03 AM

I'm not a big fan of patents either but i think it's a smart move.

Some big companies like 3DSystems or Stratasys are used to initiate a lot of patent lawsuits, that's how they do their business. They have a lot of patents about 3Dprinting. I recently watched the documentary Print the legend, it explains quite well how this goes.

I see the patents of Ultimaker like something positive as it's defensive, it will not stop innovation, it will not make Ultimaker sue any companies or reprap users. I think it will make it possible for Ultimaker to focus on what they do best: creating amazing printers and great software.

Who wants to loose time (and money) in court?

nallath Team Ultimaker Points: 4781
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Posted by
nallath

Posted Mar 1, 2017 - 3:14 AM

Quote by yellowshark

Do not forget that patents stopped the development of an Ultimaker and other RepRap style printers until just a few years ago when the patents ran out

We're well aware of this. This is also why Ultimaker promised to not use those patents offensively. The patents that stopped 3D printing innovation were held by companies that had no such promise (and aggressively pursued legal action against infringement)

meduza Feel free to ask me Level: 38 Points: 1208
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Posted by
meduza

Posted Mar 1, 2017 - 4:09 AM • Edited 4:16 AM

Since both you guys nallath and sandervg are making references to OIN, have Ultimaker considered creating something similar specifically for 3D Printing? A Patent pool where any company can join and get access to using all of the patents on the premise that they will never sue any of the other members, only use their patents defensivly and that all of the members can use their patents freely, both for use in their product and to defend themselves.

This is actually something i'll think is seriously lacking in the 3D Printing business world, and as much as i hate the whole current implementation of the patent system, i'll have to admit that you should protect your business, but doing it the open patent pool way would at least open up the door for inventors with small business to join and get some protection, and it could reduce the offensive patent usage in the 3d printing world.

nallath Team Ultimaker Points: 4781
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Posted by
nallath

Posted Mar 1, 2017 - 4:32 AM

Quote by meduza

Since both you guys nallath and sandervg are making references to OIN, have Ultimaker considered creating something similar specifically for 3D Printing? A Patent pool where any company can join and get access to using all of the patents on the premise that they will never sue any of the other members, only use their patents defensivly and that all of the members can use their patents freely, both for use in their product and to defend themselves.

We considered it way back when IP first became an issue (+- 2 years ago). At that point it was decided to not do it, as UM was too small and it would cost (relatively speaking) too much to do it. I've just pitched the idea again and got some positive responses about this. I'm going to see what can be done about this. I think this is an excellent solution to the patent problem!

bagel-orb 3D printing enthusiast Level: 20 Points: 355
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Posted by
bagel-orb

Posted Mar 1, 2017 - 10:20 AM

OIN (Open Innovation Network) is geared toward Linux, but were trying to expand into other areas some time ago. It seems they haven't yet succeeded in doing so. If OIN would expand it could be possible for Ultimaker to join.

nallath Team Ultimaker Points: 4781
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Posted by
nallath

Posted Mar 1, 2017 - 10:52 AM

Quote by bagel-orb

OIN (Open Innovation Network) is geared toward Linux, but were trying to expand into other areas some time ago. It seems they haven't yet succeeded in doing so. If OIN would expand it could be possible for Ultimaker to join.

Ultimaker is already part of OIN. It just doesn't provide all the protection that we need yet.

jeremie 3D printing enthusiast Level: 18 Points: 198
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Posted by
jeremie

Posted Mar 1, 2017 - 11:53 AM

"Ultimaker won't change?"

What I really dislike is the bullshit that goes with the news. E.g. what the heck are you talking about when you write "[applying for patents] also keeps our community engaged and excited. We want to keep innovating, so our users can keep innovating too! That’s what an open source community is all about.". And there are other great news: you will not sue me as a contributor: "If you’re an individual user or contributor, you don’t need to worry, as these patents will not affect you.".

When a company files patents, it is trying to protect its own intellectual property and its own economic viability. It is certainly not doing so to protect the community nor the makers at all. Tell the truth, please. I can understand a lot, but I do not understand PR bullshit :/

BTW there is simply no such thing as a "defensive patent". It does not protect at all against "non-practicing entitites" since they produce nothing.

It was becoming too long to post here so I wrote in length on my blog: http://www.tridimake.com/...and-PR-bullshit.html

Le me state I like that UM became a prosperous company in the end, espcially compared to Makerbot. But this move is more than slippery, given how it is justified in my opinion :/

nallath Team Ultimaker Points: 4781
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Posted by
nallath

Posted Mar 1, 2017 - 1:06 PM • Edited 3:35 PM

Quote by jeremie

When a company files patents, it is trying to protect its own intellectual property and its own economic viability. It is certainly not doing so to protect the community nor the makers at all. Tell the truth, please. I can understand a lot, but I do not understand PR bullshit :/

And please do tell, how would the +-7 full time engineers on Cura be paid if there is no business? I sure as hell won't spend 40 hours a week developing open source software (as much as I would love to, but i also have a morgage to pay).

Ultimaker has a symbiotic relationship with the community.  We need each other.

Quote by jeremie

BTW there is simply no such thing as a "defensive patent". It does not protect at all against "non-practicing entitites" since they produce nothing.

So you're telling me that because it does not provide a 100% protection, it provides no protection? Thats a bit of a strange claim to make. If you look at companies that hold the most 3D printing patents, you will find that those are practicing entities.

You are right that having a patent does not protect against patent trolls. But right now at least Ultimaker (and by extension, the things we do for / with you) is more protected than before.

Quote by jeremie

Le me state I like that UM became a prosperous company in the end, espcially compared to Makerbot. But this move is more than slippery, given how it is justified in my opinion :/

You are aware that we've been "slapping" people around with intelectual property for some time right? The only reason why we can enforce people to be AGPL, is because we have IP on the code. Now we have IP on a technological feature and have stated that as long as you use it open source we will not sue you. Could you explain to me why you feel that this is different?

I'd like to invite you to read my posts about this subject again. I've been involved with this process a long time and fully side with the decision to apply patents (even though I believe that patents are evil!). Your blog post is simplification of how patents work and are used.

LePaul Becoming an expert Level: 56 Points: 2715
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Posted by
LePaul

Posted Mar 1, 2017 - 6:38 PM • Edited 6:38 PM

Quote by jeremie

It was becoming too long to post here so I wrote in length on my blog: http://www.tridimake.com/...and-PR-bullshit.html

You, sir, are a coward.

You rant and rave here, link us to your additional ranting and raving blog...and delete Nallath's well-crafted reply/comment on it.

You like to make a lot of noise but can't stomach a response.  Grow up.

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