There is a growing concern in the open-source 3-D printing community that broad patent claims on materials for 3-D printing may hamper the open-source 3-D printing community's ability to innovate. Thingiverse published a relatively simple algorithm as a defensive publication of prior art to help identify obvious materials for 3-D printing here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:73427 (I'll paste it below)

It appears to me to more or less cover every conceivable 3-D printing (additive manufacturing) material. Is this an effective defensive publication of prior art by the obvious clause? Are all 3-D printing material patents ideas that can be generated by the algorithm void after April 13, 2013 when it was published? What about the ones that came before?

How to use the algorithm:

Variables and definitions: @ = “All of the preceding materials and” & = “All combinations of all possible mol fractions of the above” (e.g. [1] chemicals a+b, a+c, a+b+c, etc. until all combinations have been reached over the set up to N+M and [2] all fractions so that compound [ax][b1-x] would be stepped through from x=0 to 1 under all percentages) N = the total number of natural chemicals and compounds including the entire set of elements in the periodic table M = the total number of man-made chemicals. This includes, but is not limited to, the entire CAS REGISTRY (https://www.cas.org/content/chemical-substances), which is the most authoritative collection of disclosed chemical substance information, containing more than 71 million organic and inorganic substances and 64 million sequences. Functional agent = any chemical species that provides some form of beneficial property of the 3-D printing material. For example this includes (but is not limited to) species to improve rheological properties, melting temperature, setting time, hydrodynamics (e.g. hydrophobicity, hydrophillicity, etc.) electromagnetic properties (e.g. phosphorescence, color, light transmission, reflection and refraction etc.), chemical properties (e.g. reactivity, smell, catalytic activity, etc.), mechanical properties (e.g. strength, flexibility, stiffness, fracture toughness, etc.), thermal properties (e.g. thermal conductivity, thermoluminescence, etc.), magnetic properties, and electrical properties, etc. (For other material properties see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_materials_properties )

Copy and pasted from Thingiverse:

Materials capable of being used as 3-D printed feedstock include: 1. Known natural chemicals and compounds including all organic and inorganic substances 2. @ & from 1 to N 3. @ known man-made chemicals, compounds, and metamaterials including all organic and inorganic substances 4. @ & from 1 to M 5. @ & from 1 to NM 6. @ & where 1 to NM acts as a functional agent 7. @ & where any natural or manmade material is controlled for size from 1 Angstrom to 1 m in dimension (e.g. to account for any size related physical or chemical property change as is well established at the nanoscale) 8. @ & any arrangement of the combinations (e.g. superlattices, metamaterials, core in shell quantum dots, etc.) 9. @ & where a nanoscale collection of atoms (e.g. nanocrystal, quantum dot, nanotube, nanocolum, etc.) is used as a functional agent or filler 10. @ & where the shape of the collection of atoms is altered to adjust properties (thus all geometric shapes, and all known complex shapes capable of being generated by a mathematical algorithm (e.g. fractals)) 11. @ & where the surfaces (both internal voids or external surfaces) are adjusted (e.g. roughening) to adjust properties. 12. @ & at any temperature from 0 K to infinity (or any sequence or combination of temperature) 13. @ & at any pressure from 0 bar to infinity (or any sequence or combination of pressure) 14. @ & printed in any environmental medium [NM] (meaning that some 3-D printing materials may need to be used under vacuum, under water, etc.) 15. @ & printed with the assistance of electromagnetic radiation of any wavelength. 16. @ & printed with the assistance of any solvent from N or M or combination of the above. 17. @ & for any physical orientation of the chemical species. 18. @ & for any N or M or combination that acts as a catalyst during the printing process. 19. @ & for any field catalyzed reaction (e.g. magnetic). 20. @ any order of the above.

  • Wow, someone other than 3D Systems is aggressively gobbling up anything that's not bolted down?
    – Chris K
    Dec 30 '13 at 8:49

Yes they can still be patented. This is a universal "shotgun" method of determining if any of an unlimited number of materials are suitable when used in any of an unlimited number of ways. It does not anticipate any particular class of material, teach a way of using that material or make it obvious that any particular material will or won't work. Can I anticipate all cancer cures by an analogous method? How about all future inventions? Patents get rejected because "it has already been done" or it is obvious in light of some prior teaching. This doesn't teach that anything in particular works.

One, very simplified, way to look at the social contract of the patent system's ideals is that when an inventor teaches us something practical that the world did not already know we give the inventor a time-limited exclusive over that teaching. The statement you have above doesn't teach us anything. When someone later discovers a particular mix of materials in just the right proportions used just the right way makes a low cost, strong compound with optimal properties in some domain, they have added to the world's knowledge. The statement that an infinite number of things might work doesn't anticipate that invention.

Regarding reducing the number of combinations, there are many cases in material science where a small change in proportions or the process of combining elements results in an "unexpected result". If you say try everything in every proportion of three elements and maybe something useful will come out of it, that doesn't anticipate the particular formula that produces the unexpected result.

On the other hand if a particular material is known and one of the elements is from a small family of elements with a particular property known to be at work, someone coming up with a alternate material by substituting the element from a small number of "obvious to try" related elements, might be deemed un-patentable by reason of obviousness.

A billion monkeys can type for a billion years on a billion keyboards. Just saying if we that did that we will generate some novel patent applications doesn't anticipate any patent aplication.

  • Thanks George - You are right this is a shotgun method of developing a material for 3-D printing. It looks like it anticipates a whole range of classes of materials. It also seems obvious that they would all work do varying degrees of success. To understand this I tried to reduce it down to something I could wrap my head around because all the N and M stuff is confusing. What if there were only 3 materials available and someone made an algorithm That said something like all combinations of A+B+C for all volume fractions to be used in 3D printing...Would that be acceptable as prior art ?
    – 3D-printer
    Apr 26 '13 at 14:45
  • I'll address this by expanding the answer. Thanks
    – George White
    Apr 26 '13 at 16:08
  • To advance your communities' goals is going to take a lot more sophisticated knowledge of the patent system and also documenting what you develop in a way that is more explanatory than releasing files and a YouTube video of it working. And it will take hard-core inventing out in front of others with commercial interests.
    – George White
    Apr 26 '13 at 16:32
  • Thanks again George-- and I guess this is the part I don't understand. It seems clear to me that no one should be able to get a patent for the shotgun algorithm above. However, people are being awarded patents in this space on materials that the community has been using for years and have documented on the internet in wikis, blogs, and even YouTube videos. Worse when they are awarded a patent it usually comes with a long list of claims trying to carve out as much of the commons as possible. How do we keep even the simplest ideas like using a thermoplastic in the public domain?
    – 3D-printer
    Apr 27 '13 at 3:03
  • You might post a question that specifically cites a particular patent that you think was for something that was old at the time of filing so we can address an actual case or two. From my view of things ask patents is full of things where someone thought a patent was horrible for being too broad but a full, careful reading of the claims shows that it wasn't actually ridiculous. Often the prior art community members identify misses the mark. I am pro-patent but only pro patents that are well examined and logically granted.
    – George White
    Apr 27 '13 at 7:44

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