3d printers

Desktop Metal Obtains Injunction to Stop SprintRay from Selling “Pro” 3D Printers in Germany

Manufacturer of industrial 3D printers Metal desk has been granted a preliminary injunction by a German court which prevents SprintRay to sell its dental systems there.

Desktop Metal alleges technology used to power SprintRay’s Pro 95 and Pro 55 3D printers infringes patents covering its subsidiary’s “layer separation process” EnvisionTEC. As a result of this decision, SprintRay is now prohibited from selling, importing, using or stocking in Germany any product that infringes these patents.

“We are very pleased with the Court’s decision,” said Michael Jafar, CEO of Desktop Health. “Desktop Metal’s commitment to R&D in hardware, software and materials science has resulted in over 650 issued patents and pending patent applications worldwide, which we intend to enforce vigorously.”

The SprintRay Pro 95 and Pro 55 3D printers that allegedly infringed Desktop Metal’s patents. Image via SprintRay.

Assessing the alleged violation

Acquired by Desktop Metal for $300 million in January, EnvisionTEC is a maker of SLA and DLP powered machines. Known mainly for the latter, the company now markets a large portfolio of desktop computers D4Kbigger Perfactory P4K and dual 4K Extreme 8K 3D printers, as well as its Continuous Digital Light Manufacturing (CDLM) Imagine a systems.

Designed specifically to enable rapid production of polymer parts, the Envision One itself is available in three iterations: Mechanical, Dental and excluding tax. Each features slightly varying top print speeds ranging from 45mm to 120mm per hour, as well as different heating systems that reflect their distinct target applications, but they all have a similar 180 x 101 x 175mm build plate and a common CDLM architecture.

According to EnvisionTEC, the fundamentals of this technology, which enables “continuous motion of the build plate to deliver exceptional build speeds,” are based on an approach pioneered a decade ago. In fact, the company claims that the designs of its DLP systems are protected by ‘US7892474B2‘, an old patent covering the “continuous generative process of producing a three-dimensional object”.

The company openly lists his patents via its website (which now has 143) and there are many related to the layer separation process performed by its machines. For example, the company was able to protect its technology around the creation of “separate layers between a flat base plate and layers of hardened polymer”, under the patent number ‘DE10119817A1‘ in Germany in 2001, although it has since been removed.

Since Desktop Metal has now filed a lawsuit against SprintRay based on the infringement of several European patents, issued in Germany and other countries, it is therefore difficult to identify which of those it is contesting. However, it has been made clear by the Hamburg District Court, that SprintRay is no longer allowed to sell its Pro 95 and Pro 55 printers in Germany until the case is resolved.

The Envision One 3D printer from EnvisionTEC.
Like SprintRay’s Pro 3D printers, EnvisionTEC’s Envision One is often marketed to a dental audience. Image via EnvisionTEC.

DM vs SprintRay: dental dust?

Since the injunction was issued in August 2021, Desktop Metal had maintained radio silence on the matter, until it received an injunction earlier this week. SprintRay, on the other hand, has yet to publicly comment on the decision, but there’s certainly some crossover in the two companies’ target customer base, making them rivals in the marketplace and adding a layer of intrigue to the procedures.

Operating as a subsidiary of the 3D printer manufacturer Soon Ser, SprintRay is a developer of additive manufacturing resins, software and post-printing systems, but its Pro 95 and Pro 55 machines represent its main products. Much like EnvisionTEC’s Envision One, these resin-based desktop systems are marketed as “breakthrough technology” that prints at “blinding speeds”, and both sets of machines contain similar >385nm LEDs.

Due to the similarities between companies’ DLP 3D printers, it’s no surprise that they’re being marketed to dental customers as well. While SprintRay claims its systems can mass print surgical guides, aligners and occlusal guards, EnvisionTEC manufactures a complete dental iteration of its system, which it says is “perfect for 3D printing orthodontic applications, as well than for complete dentures”.

There is no doubt that EnvisionTEC, as the more established of the two companies, has a greater market share in this area, and so the injunction has swung their battle for supremacy more firmly in its favor. However, it remains to be seen if the preliminary action will be followed by a full trial on the disputed patents, and SprintRay has not yet specified how/why it is contesting them.

SprintRay has been contacted by 3D Printing Industry regarding its alleged patent violations, but was unavailable for comment at the time of writing.

A diagram of CELLINK's bio-printing system, taken from its patent.
A schematic taken from the custom plastic surgery 3D bioprinting robot patented by CELLINK earlier this year. Picture via CELLINK.

Patent Battles of the Past

In such a technologically advanced industry, it’s no surprise that patents are seen by many in the 3D printing field as a key way to prevent the loss of trade secrets and a potential advantage over competitors. . Although some of the designs in these documents stretch the imagination, such as by CELLINK facial bio-printing robots, other patents like the one recently obtained by Optomec cover its core AJP process.

To complicate matters, these patents also tend to be quite broad in nature, which makes it easy for manufacturers to have conflicts that otherwise wouldn’t arise. In August 2021, for example, CELLINK was accused by another company of bio-printing Organovo of infringing on his intellectual property (IP), although those claims were called “invalid” at the time.

Elsewhere, in other cases, the lifting of patents such as the Stratasys Heated Build Chamber opened up potential opportunities for others in the industry. Asked about the impact that the expiry of the patent could have in March, INTAMSYS said it would allow “more innovation and lower costs”, while Raise3D joked that it “doesn’t include patent expiration as a factor” in its product R&D.

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The featured image shows the SprintRay Pro 95 and Pro 55 3D printers which allegedly infringed Desktop Metal’s patents. Image via SprintRay.