In the past month, a few patent applications from MakerBot were published, and like everything tangentially related to the prodigal son of the 3D printer world, the Internet arose in a clamor that would be comparable only to news that grumpy cat has died. That’s just an analogy, by the way. Grumpy cat is fine.
The first patent, titled, Three-dimensional printer with force detection was filed on October 29th, 2013. It describes a 3D printer with a sensor coupled to the hot end able to sense a contact force between the nozzle and build plate. It’s a rather clever idea that will allow any 3D printer to perform software calibration of the build plate, ensuring everything is printed on a nice, level surface. Interestingly, [Steve Graber] posted an extremely similar design of a bed leveling probe on October 6th, 2013. In [Steve]’s video, you can see his bed level probe doing just about everything the MakerBot patent claims, all while being uploaded to YouTube before the patent application.
When it rains it pours, and the Quick-release extruder patent application, filed on October 28, 2013, bears this out. It claims an extruder that includes, “a bistable lever including a mechanical linkage to the bearing, the bearing engaged with the drive gear when the bistable lever is in a first position and the bearing disengaged from the drive gear when the bistable lever is in a second position.” Simple enough, a lever with two positions, where one presses a bearing against a drive gear, and the other position disengages the bearing from a drive gear. Here’s something that was published on Thingiverse in 2011 that does the same thing. Hugely famous RepRap contributor [whosawhatsis] has weighed in on this as well.
It is important to note that these are patent applications. Nothing has been patented yet. The US Patent and Trademark Office does seem to have a lot of rubber stamps these days, so what is the average Internet denizen to do? Here are easy to follow, step-by-step instructions on how to notify the USPTO of prior art. Remember, just because prior art does not completely invalidate a patent application’s claims doesn’t mean you shouldn’t send it in. It is a patent examiner’s job to review the prior art.
So there you go. MakerBot applies for patents, people complain, but not to the USPTO. Highly relevant video and transcription below.
Annelise: Annilise here again with episode three of the second season of MakeBot TV. So, one of the things you’ve probably heard us talk about before here at MakerBot is the power of sharing. But what exactly do we mean by that? Well, at MakerBot we follow a production model called open source. In the open source world, developers share the backend knowledge of their product with the public. And if anyone in the community makes an improvement upon that work, that progress gets folded back into production. And what happens when everyone is sharing in that sort of way is that improvements happen at a much faster rate. Because we’re all working on it together. Simple and beautiful. I talked to Bre a bit about how he got into open source.
Bre: For me personally, I got into open source by being a teacher. I would take my lesson plans and put them up on Geocities back in the day and other teachers would do the same thing. Because we were sharing, it lightened the load for everybody. If you had a lesson I hadn’t done yet, I could start where you left off, and use your curriculum as a basis for by curriculum. And it meant that we saved time and built a community.
When we started MakerBot, we knew we were going to be open source hardware. We were inspired by Arduino, and we were open source software nerds. So, we knew the idea if we could make it and share it, we’d get more back from it. And I think this is something we learned as kids, that sharing is good, that if you share something you get more back from it, but we forget this as adults. So, with open source hardware we’re back to that. When you get a MakerBot, you’re not just getting a machine, you’re getting the knowledge of how it works. You’re getting the information about everything that puts it together. So if you want to modify it, or if you just want to learn about it, if you want to hack it, you can do it.
When you build on open source hardware, you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. And then you’re letting other people stand on your shoulders. And then, if you want, you can stand on those people’s shoulders. So it’s kind of a standing on the shoulders of giants Möbius strip if we all participate.
We’re at an interesting time where if you want to build this future, if you wan to solidify the future where open source is the norm, you have to support open source by participating. You have to get into it, you have to support companies that do open source, cause I want to live in that future where we share things and the world is a better place for it.
Annelise: And that’s a wrap for this week. Let me know what you guys think about open source by tweeting to @makerbotTV. And don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube or iTunes. Next week, we’re heading up to Boston to meet with a group of students who have been frosting cupcakes with our MakerBot. Until then, keep it awesome.