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Ultimaker Files First Patents: the End of an Open Source Dream?

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Ultimaker has experienced considerable growth in the last few years, becoming a globally recognized company. Today, in order to keep offering excellent quality products to its customers, the company needs to fully perform in the professional marketplace.

The industrial additive manufacturing market has some strong players, some of whom are very proactive with patents. As such, we need to take extra measures to protect our intellectual property (IP) – to ensure we keep on creating the best possible 3D printing products on the market. Here’s some more information about our defensive patents, and what this means to you.

Staying safe and keeping usage fair

While Ultimaker maintains that the company remains passionate about 3D printing technology and to doing all that it can to promote its development – largely by making its technology available to everyone – its also acknowledges that to offer its products to more people worldwide, it needs to introduce additional measures to keep its innovations well protected.

“Quite simply, that means we’re filing patents on our inventions to prevent other companies from claiming them as their own.”

However, this doesn’t mean that open source won’t apply anymore. The company says it 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. However this is something that most companies, even Stratasys and 3D Systems, also do.

If you’re an individual user or contributor, you don’t need to worry, as these patents will not affect you. It’s simply a way of protecting Ultimaker in a highly competitive (and occasionally cut-throat) marketplace. By filing these patents, Ultimaker hopes to thrive while also creating a secure environment for its partners, and other related businesses.

What is a defensive patent?

A defensive patent helps protect a company against patent infringement lawsuits. It also lets a company countersue if a competitor sues for infringement, or any other reason for that matter.

Having defensive patents in place is really important for companies like Ultimaker. The company remains focused on innovation, and to keep bringing new products to market, and IP portfolio protection is necessary at higher industrial levels.

“In short, these defensive patents help us keep doing what we do best: developing efficient, effective, useable 3D desktop printers and related products.”

What other reasons?

There are other benefits to having defensive patents in place. Being protected means Ultimaker has more freedom to support and accelerate the development of the 3D printing ecosystem. It can focus on making new technology available to users worldwide, assuring the continuity of business, and enabling the company to collaborate and share inventions with itsw 3D printing partners.

Commitment to open source innovation

However Ultimaker does not feel this is in conflict with its open source origins and states that it remain 100% committed to its open source ethos. The Ultimaker team will continue to actively support its community (which is also a great source of collaborative development), and encourage further innovation in the 3D printing field. In fact Ultimaker remains fully open to co-development, and won’t claim IP rights from other parties. Ultimaker 3 STEP files will be shared on Github, and the company will continue to use open source licensing.

Once the patents are published, the links will be shared to the database, which means anyone can view them whenever they want to. Filing patents is not a crime, far from it. It is a necessity. This is a typical argument, for example, from pharmaceutical companies, that would never be able to pay for the extensive R&D necessary to develop a new drug if they were not able to patent protect it for at least a number of years.

Nevertheless Ultimaker benfited enormously form the open source community – for example by using the expired filament extrusion patent to create its first systems – and deciding to now seek patent protection may seem counter intuitive. That does not make it any less necessary if the company wants to continue to establish itself as a global player.

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