The thing about patents is that they’re ambivalent. Their purpose is benevolent, but how they’re used can be malevolent. Patents are intended to encourage innovation and investment, but if they’re abused, they can actually stifle innovation. When well-understood practices or technologies are patented, hobbyists and DIYers lose access to them. See, patents aren’t supposed to protect “obvious” technologies; they’re supposed to protect new, novel, and unique ones.
For instance, people have been using pulleys for thousands of years, and they’re not patentable because their construction and operation is obvious to pretty much everyone. But that doesn’t stop people/companies from applying for obvious patents. And sometimes those patents are granted. It can be difficult to find such patents before they’re granted and used to assert infringement. Well, such broad and obvious patents are being applied for on 3D printing technologies, so the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) teamed up with Harvard’s Cyberlaw Clinic and Ask Patents to find and challenge these patent applications. They can challenge them due to a provision in the America Invents Act called the Preissuance Submission procedure that allows third parties to submit any “printed publication of potential relevance to the examination of the application.” That means if you have proof that a patent application is for an obvious technology, then you can send that to the Patent Office for their consideration. And EFF is inviting you to do so. They’ve challenged six patents so far that are related to printing supports, printing with chocolate, laser sintering, printing with ribbon-shaped filament, and printing with non-homogenous articles.
The Patent Office has accepted their submissions, but you can still send your own “prior art”challenges. You can see the actual patents here, and if you have evidence that the technology was obvious before the Prior Art Cutoff Dates, I encourage you to submit it. Affordable personal 3D printing could be at stake.