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I've been researching better user interfaces, specifically alternatives to mice.

In doing this I've come across 3dmice. The only manufacturer seems to be 3dconnexion (owned by logitech).

They appear to have several quite broad* patents. See for example https://patents.justia.com/assignee/3dconnexion-gmbh

I also came across a nice open source project to create a similar device - https://github.com/mattogodoy/mighty-mouse

This brings to mind several questions:

  • Does providing instructions on how to build something potentially infringe a patent?

  • Are you free to provide instructions so long as you don't sell the complete product or assembled components that mgiht infringe?

  • There are places that will fabricate items for you given instructions such as thingiverse. If you upload the instructions there (e.g. like https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1693444) Such that someone can buy them. Who if anyone is liable for infringing the patent?

    • the author or team contribtuion the instructions (e.g. on github)
    • the person uploading them to the manufacturer's site
    • the site hosting the design and offering to print it for you (e.g. thingiverse)

I'm guessing it would work something like copyright on youtube. The author's could be threatened with a suit and the hosts github and or thingiverse for example would be issued some kind of takendown notice asking them to remove the infringing content and would face legal action if they did not comply.

Also consider that the various entities involved could be in different juristictions.

*To my untrained eye the patent claims I linked to look overly broad and possibly could be invalidated by prior art with sufficient research and a good lawyer but that is irrelevant to this question


I just came across this:

Unlike copyright infringement which requires copying an original, even if inadvertently, patent infringement does not require any knowledge of the original invention and can even be an "original" invention by the infringer. Infringement is not triggered by a second inventor conceiving the same thing as the patent owner but is triggered by making, selling, offering for sale, importing or using a patented device or executing the steps of a patented.

In your scenario the end user is using the patented invention and would be a direct infringer. If the software provider knew that this would occur they might be an indirect infringer essentially supplying a component of a patented object or might not be if it had significant non-infringing uses.

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  • I also asked what happened to spatialfreedom who tried to create a rival to the spacemouse here electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/564947/… – Bruce Adams May 13 at 11:16
  • This is also interesting on the relevant subject of software ask.metafilter.com/216885/… niederfamily.blogspot.com/2012/03/… – Bruce Adams May 13 at 11:33
  • How are you assessing the “broadness” of 3DConnexion’s patents? Have you read the claims? – Eric S May 13 at 14:03
  • I'm not formally assessing them at all but the abstracts seem broad. I am not used to reading patents. I am also biased by believing that patents in their current form stiffle creativity compared to a collaborative open source approach. However, the individual claims in for example patents.justia.com/patent/20070164995 seem weak e.g. "ergonomic device with a replacable palm rest" but perhaps taken together they are specific and unique enough. The patent office and legal professionals involved certainly thought so. Likewise 7296463 - a force or moment sensor connected to something. – Bruce Adams May 14 at 0:09
  • Abstracts contain no indication at all about the broadness of a patent. Only claims do. The document you linked in your comment was abandoned and never was granted so it isn’t a patent. Before you declare all patents as trash I’d suggest you learn a bit more about how to interpret them. – Eric S May 14 at 2:36
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To infringe a patent directly one needs to make, sell, offer for sale, import or use a patented device or perform the steps of a method claim in a granted patent.

Publishing something that explains how to make something is not making, selling, etc. a patented device. There is something called indirect infringement which can involve contributing to someone else directly infringing.

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  • Correct. And a patent owner who goes after an indirect infringer often does do indirectly, by suing somebody who makes, sells, etc. a product based on the foundation provided by the indirect infringer. In the case of open source, that would mean some developer who uses the open-source project could be sued for infringement. The open-source contributor could be named on that suit as well. – Avatron May 22 at 17:30
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    Yes - to win an indirect infringement suit one needs to prove that there is at least one direct infringer. – George White May 22 at 18:51
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Based on what I can see from the Mighty Mouse link, it is not infringing on the 3DConnexion patents. The Mighty Mouse is based on using a standard dual axis joystick while the 3DConnexion mouse patents an arrangement of optical sensors to provide 6 degree of freedom control. Although the Mighty Mouse is styled similarly to one of the 3DConnexion devices I don't see any design patents.

It is important to understand that the title and abstract of a patent tells you little or nothing about how broad a patent is. Only the claims define that. In addition, you need to be aware when a document is an application versus a patent. In you comments, you reference US20070164995A1 which is only an application. Patents.google.com provides more information than patents.justia.com. In this case US20070164995A1 was abandoned, so it isn't and won't become a patent.

Now, I am not a lawyer so my assessment is not a legal one. I will say, that to my knowledge, you can infringe on a patent if you don't sell a product. There is a research exemption in the US associated with developing drugs, but otherwise giving away an infringing device represents potentially lost sales to the patent holder.

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