3D Systems Victorious in Antitrust Case
Kyle Maxey posted on May 23, 2014 |
3D Systems prevailed in an antitrust case concerned with its resins, but will this ruling make the m...
3d printing, law, antitrust, materials, resin, SLA, 3D SystemsJudge Sharon Johnson Colman, presiding over the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, ruled in favor of 3D Systems in an antitrust case that could have big implications for the 3D printing industry.

According to the facts of the case, DSM Desotech, a chemical manufacturer with a deep stable of photosensitive polymers, argued that 3D Systems’ method for tagging their materials resulted in an anti-competitive model that effectively removed 3rd party vendors from supplying material for 3D Systems’ machines.

As part of each 3D Systems’ SLA machines, each bottle of resin material comes equipped with a transmitter. When connected to a machine the transmitter sends a signal to a machine-based RFID chip which verifies that the material is an authentic 3D Systems product. Once verified printing can proceed; however, the printer will shut down if it is not equipped with the 3D Systems shibboleth.

While this type of proprietary technology has been used by 2D printer companies in the past, DSM’s lawyers argued that – seeing as the 3D printing market is much smaller than the 2D printing market – 3D Systems’ technology shut the door on the 3rd party materials business and was therefore anti-competitive.

Unconvinced by DSM’s argument Judge Colman ruled in favor of 3D Systems, stating that the company could employ their proprietary technology on the grounds that users could simply switch to another 3D printing method (FDM or SLS) if they wanted greater freedom in their material choices.

In my opinion, the underlying logic that compels Judge Colman’s ruling represents a misunderstanding of what additive manufacturing technology is and how critical materials technologies are to a final product’s quality. Furthermore, this type of business can prevent or slow down materials innovations. 3D Systems would be wise to let other companies further the value of their products by bringing fresh ideas to the materials development table.

Hopefully, Autodesk’s open-source, open-material Spark printer will garner widespread acceptance and become a laboratory for materials innovation as well as a beacon for shared innovation. If not, materials development could slow, stuck in the hands of those few companies already dominating the AM landscape.

Given that materials development is key to the growth of the additive manufacturing industry, it would be wise to install a system where consumers retain the right to pick and choose the winners.

Image Courtesy of 3D Systems

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