We’ve been working for some time—with your help—to ensure that improvidently granted patents don’t threaten exciting and growing 3D printing technology. The good news is that with the help of the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, we’ve been able to challenge a number of such dangerous patent applications at the Patent Office.

But we’re not done.

The project to challenge patent applications covering 3D printing technology is important not just because of the promise of that technology, but because we’re relying on a fairly new legal procedure called Preissuance Submissions. That procedure allows third parties to participate in the patent application process by providing patent examiners with prior art.1 As we’ve said before, we’re glad to see the Patent Office open up the process to those who might not be filing patents themselves, but who are affected by the patent system everyday.

Yet, just as we feared, the process is not an easy one. For starters, searching the Patent Office’s website for pending applications is hard. And then, even if you can identify applications, it’s tough to know which ones really pose a danger to a growing technology. And, finally, the most important step of all: uncovering and submitting helpful information during the short window of opportunity.

That’s why we’ve decided to partner with Ask Patents, a project of Stack Exchange, to help find the best prior art to attack what we think are some pretty questionable patent applications. Ask Patents takes basic crowd-sourcing principles and calls on the public to help out:

Citizen volunteers and other interested parties will be able to ask about applications that they think are suspicious. Others can answer, identifying possible prior art, and using our upvote/downvote feature to rate any examples of prior art that other people found.

We think this is an exciting way to take advantage of the new Preissuance Submission process. Mostly because we think you, the people who use and build 3D printers or any other technology that might be threatened by bad patents, are in the best position to make this process work. (You can also learn about other applications you can help with by following Ask Patent's twitter account.)

So let’s get started! Here are the first three applications we’ve posted at Ask Patents. Please read about them and share any prior art you might know about (but time is of the essence; the windows to submit prior art may start closing as soon as April 4, 2013). We also hope you’ll further join in the conversation by upvoting the submissions from others you think are best (and by sharing information you have on even more patent applications). Once we’ve identified the best prior art for the following three, we’ll submit it to the Patent Office. 

CALL FOR PRIOR ART: 3D Printing application “Process for Producing Three-dimensionally Shaped Object and Device for Producing Same” (13/503217): http://patents.stackexchange.com/q/3494/3363 

CALL FOR PRIOR ART: 3D Printing application “Additive Manufacturing System and Method for Printing Customized Chocolate Confections” (13/432424): http://patents.stackexchange.com/q/3493/3363

CALL FOR PRIOR ART: 3D Printing application “Ribbon Filament and Assembly for Use in Extrusion-based Digital Manufacturing Systems” (13/530191): http://patents.stackexchange.com/q/3495/3363


  • 1. Any document that was publicly available before an application was filed is considered prior art; this is not limited to formal academic papers so can include a wide variety of documents such as emails to public lists, websites, and doctoral theses.

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