Patents are sensitive issues in 3D printing technology. The RepRap project had encouraged the manufacturers to make use of the newly patent-free FDM 3D printing technology and all 3D printers that were manufactured at that time were based on the designs of the RepRap project. The patents eventually expired and 3D printing and Stem education grasped their hold in the market.
Since a very few companies had patents for 3D printing, it was a lost and oblivious technology. When the patents of these companies expired, the maker groups like MakerBot , a 3D printing company started developing products using 3D technology. It was then bought by the industry giant Stratasys and the stock swap was valued at $600 million. It was like the amalgamation of an open source technology with expertise to develop high-class products.
MakerBot 3D printers are classic examples of superior open source technology and was surrounded by a community that boosted its revenues. MakerBot finally filed for high profile patent applications, shifting their focus from the open source technology. The community did not take this change very well because the technology that the printers were built of had been mostly tested by the community. This decision of the MakerBot and Stratasys alliance still remains the most controversial one.
Though open source technology brought great success to the 3D print technology, a study by the MarketsandMarkets called “Outlook of Mergers & Acquisitions, Investments, and Patents in the 3D Printing Market (2010-2016)”, it said that the growth in mergers and acquisitions and patent publications in the 3D printing field led to good and lucrative investments. In simple terms, businesses grew and so did revenues.
The year 2014 saw the major deals in M&A investments and this year saw the companies Stratasys and 3D systems reaching remarkable heights. But this over investment in M&A, also let to the crashing stock prices of both these companies that went on to acquire 60 small companies to make use of their patents.
The 3D system’s Cube was developed as a closed platform and it failed majorly and the same happened to MakerBot’s Smart Extruder project. And as opposed, Carbon has filed for patents for their CLIP technology and has drawn more than $100 million in crowd funding.
The big question is- Is it possible to follow a middle path and be a partially open source and file for patents?