I gave a talk on patents at Bolt last month. I covered the patent process and strategy for startups, but one of my key points was: don’t get too excited about a patent until you read the claims. The claims describe, very specifically, what the patent covers.
So it was interesting to hear several references to Stratasys’s 3D printer “heated build enclosure” patent recently. (Background: in certain 3D technologies, there’s less warping if printer chamber is toasty warm). The 3D community refers to the “broad applicability” of this patent and is waiting for it to expire.
Intrigued, I studied the claims. Here’s claim 1:
A three-dimensional modeling apparatus comprising a heated build chamber in which three-dimensional objects are built, a base located in the build chamber, a dispensing head for dispensing modeling material onto the base, the dispensing head having a modeling material dispensing outlet inside of the build chamber, and an x-y-z gantry coupled to the dispensing head and to the base for generating relative movement in three-dimensions between the dispensing head and the base, characterized in that:
the x-y-z gantry is located external to the build chamber and is separated from the chamber by a deformable thermal insulator.
(Emphasis added). Note the gantry is external to the build chamber and all other claims specify this. In fact, the specification highlights the disadvantages of putting the gantry inside:
Placing the extrusion head and the x-y-z gantry in this heated environment has many disadvantages. The x-y-z gantry is comprised of motion control components, such as motors, bearings, guide rods, belts and cables. Placing these motion control components inside the heated chamber minimizes the life of these components.
The implication is simple: a chamber with the gantry inside or partially inside would not be “external” and would not infringe this patent.
Read the claims!