3D Printer HardwareAM ResearchCopyright and IPIndustry RoundupVolumetric 3D Printing

Competition heats up over volumetric 3D printing patents

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Volumetric printing, as we reported, has arrived in the form of the xolo xube, but this revolutionary technology already faces contenders for volumetric printing patents. A United States patent filed by Mr. Daniel Clark of Topshelf Enterprises (T3DP) and Southern Methodist University claims technology similar to xolo’s volumetric process. Mr. Clark reported that the first patent, from 2017, was granted in early April 2021 and that the patent with SMU, Dallas was granted in November. Mr Clark has previously pointed to his patent as occupying the field in which xolo has released a product*.

3dpbm first reported on T3DP in 2019, when the startup suggested that it was on the cusp of 3D printing solar cells via volumetric technology.

Patents grant exclusive rights to inventors for their inventions, which allows intellectual property to generate value. Patents recorded in the United States and in Europe may also be recorded by the World Intellectual Property Organization. Once recorded, the patent may be filed based on the one international filing in the 153 other jurisdictions that have adhered to the Patent Cooperation Treaty.

In this case, Mr. Clark’s volumetric printing patent is the subject of an American and an international process. The patent remains, however, pending approval at both levels and is thus at present not enforceable.

The patent claims the invention of a machine that fixes resin in a chamber using three ‘photonic energy emitters’. These light sources operationalize the theory of volumetric printing, which involves creating a three-dimensional shape based on projected cross-sections that cure the photo-sensitive material filling a spinning chamber. Once printing is complete, the remaining material is drained out of the chamber.

A schematic filed with Mr. Clark's volumetric printing patent
A schematic filed with Mr. Clark’s volumetric printing patent. Note the intersecting lines of energy that are used to fix the shape as the chamber spins.

xolo’s process does not appear in patent searches, but a quick view of its machine shows that a similar process is at work. Patents, however, do not deny others the right to use processes that are invented independently of another process and that function differently in some critical respect; the exclusive right to replicate an invention is assigned to a process rather than a concept.

Volumetric 3D printing is a new technology that is being investigated by a number of companies. We have reported on two such examples; Kerry Stevenson produced a list of companies researching volumetric manufacturing at the beginning of 2020. Siemens currently possesses an active US patent for volumetric 3D printing that is pending in other jurisdictions. This patent uses ’emitted energy beams’ to stimulate the ‘build volume’, thus fabricating an object. The intersection of energy beams here creates an object.

Patent US10500640B2
Patent US10500640B2, which is described as follows: The system includes at least a controller operably connected to a build volume and one or more energy sources. The build volume defines a volumetric buildable size of the object to be fabricated and includes media for fabricating the object therein. The energy source(s) is configured to emit at least a first and second energy beam therefrom. The controller is configured to direct the first and second emitted energy beams towards an intersecting point in the build volume to begin fabricating the media therein. The energy from each of the first and second beams is not sufficient to fabricate the object out of the media. The object is fabricated once multiple beams intersect, as collectively, the energy of the intersecting beams is sufficient to fabricate the object.

Note that there is no obligation to obtain a patent for an invention; some individuals and companies prefer to keep their inventions industrial secrets. The risk in this approach is that another person might claim the rights to the exact same technology via a patent.

On the whole, then, claims in a patented technology in the volumetric space, as in most technical fields, become difficult to prove. The courts are the forum for such disputes. What is clear, however, is that xolo faces some competition over volumetric printing patents as it rolls out a truly revolutionary product.

Updated on January 7th, 2021: This post has been updated to account for Mr. White’s helpful comments below.*

**Updated on April 16th, 2021: Mr. Clark reported that the first patent from 2017 was granted in early April 2021 and that the patent with SMU, Dallas was granted in November.

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Adam Strömbergsson

Adam is a legal researcher and writer with a background in law and literature. Born in Montreal, Canada, he has spent the last decade in Ottawa, Canada, where he has worked in legislative affairs, law, and academia. Adam specializes in his pursuits, most recently in additive manufacturing. He is particularly interested in the coming international and national regulation of additive manufacturing. His past projects include a history of his alma mater, the University of Ottawa. He has also specialized in equity law and its relationship to judicial review. Adam’s current interest in additive manufacturing pairs with his knowledge of historical developments in higher education, copyright and intellectual property protections.

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