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Are Patents Holding Back a 3D Printing Boom?


3D printing uses additive manufacturing to create highly customizable stuff with fewer inputs. It’s changing the way many companies manufacture their products, and it has given do-it-yourselfers a new hobby. But what is already a very cool technology is about to get a lot cooler, as patents for what is currently a proprietary way of printing in three dimensions are set to expire next year. As Quartz reports, many are predicting that the end of these patents will kick off a new era in the 3D printing world:

In February 2014, key patents that currently prevent competition in the market for the most advanced and functional 3D printers will expire, says Duann Scott, design evangelist at 3D printing company Shapeways.

These patents cover a technology known as “laser sintering,” the lowest-cost 3D printing technology. Because of its high resolution in all three dimensions, laser sintering can produce goods that can be sold as finished products.

Laser sintering (LS) is different printing method than the more ubiquitous form deposition modeling (FDM). LS printers are extraordinarily expensive compared to FDM printers. LS patents have priced out most hobbyists, and many small businesses as well. But after LS patents expire in February, we should see a proliferation of these printers in both the manufacturing and the hobbyist world.

[3D printer image courtesy of Wikimedia]

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