Open Source

Fabbaloo reports on Prusa-Bambu Lab fight over open source licenses

Citing a paper that uncovered patent violations in AM industry as a common practice

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Our partner website Fabbaloo reported on a new research paper that investigates the claim that some 3D printer companies have violated open source licenses. According to Fabbaloo’s Kerry Stevenson, there have been claims by several Western manufacturers, which base their companies on open source principles, that certain manufacturers have improperly benefited from the open source intellectual property.

In particular, Kerry’s article mentions the exchanges between Prusa Research founder Josef Průša and Bambu Lab “Spaghetti Monster”, via their respective companies’ blogs, regarding the Chinese-American company’s practice of registering patents for systems that were developed and are used by the open source community.

The basis for the fiery exchanges is the never-ending dispute over how to use and protect open-source inventions while running a profitable business. Something similar had taken place with MakerBot and Ultimaker in the early days of open-source-based affordable filament extrusion 3D printing, with the end result that both companies eventually closed their systems and finally became the same company, partly owned by the technology’s original inventor (Stratasys).

Now the fight is between Prusa Research and Bambu Lab. Prusa is the only company that has been able to grow a solid business without renouncing their fully open-source approach. They are a unique, community-based company. Similar companies like Lulzbot experienced huge challenges and got close to going bankrupt. Prusa’s success, with over 400,000 systems sold to date is now threatened by Bambu Lab, which has already sold nearly a million low-cost systems, taking huge market shares away from Chinese competitors Creality and Anycubic, and is now going after higher price segments with the X1. Prusa indirectly accused Bambu Lab of making inappropriate use of open-source licenses.

Bambu Lab is a relative newcomer experiencing huge financial success in the low-cost and entry-level professional segments. The company does seem to have used and patented some open-source systems but, in a fairly aggressive “Let the arms race begin” post, it argues that it did so by improving them and then patenting the improved version to protect these ideas. The post argues that the company’s engineers’ goal is simply to make the best product they can make.

The research paper, authored among others by Open Source guru Joshua Pearce, on the other hand, seems to confirm that the systems patented by Bambu Lab [Patent no. CN114043726A (China): “Method and apparatus for 3D printing, storage medium, and program product”, filed on 11 November 2021, current status—pending; Patent no. CN114474738A (China): “A mechanism and 3D printing system that reloads for 3D printer” filed on 17 January 2022, current status—pending, and Patent no. CN216230793U: “Waste material wiping nozzle mechanism for 3D printer and 3D printer” filed 11 November 2021, granted 8 April 2022] do not show significant improvements compared to the original open source patents.

The paper also uncovered other improper use of licenses including one that goes all the way back to Z-Corporation (now owned by 3D Sytems), relative to previously patented thermoplastics, and by Oak Ridge National Laboratories,  U.S. Government Lab, patenting a European open-source hangprinter. To learn more about the ongoing dispute between Prusa Research and Bambu Labs, or to learn more about the paper we encourage you to read the full article on Fabbaloo.

Research
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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites VoxelMatters.com and Replicatore.it, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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