Key 3D printing patent expired yesterday


Waiiiit a second.

the USPTO granted 5597589 20 years ago

Doesn’t the patent last for 20 years from the filing date of the application? While this patent was published on January 28 ('97), it was filed on May 31 ('94).

So don’t we still have four more months to wait?

ETA: from Wikipedia “For applications filed before June 8, 1995 and for patents that were still in force on June 8, 1995, the patent term is either 17 years from the issue date or 20 years from the filing date of the earliest U.S. or international (PCT) application to which priority is claimed (excluding provisional applications), the longer term applying

This was filed before that cutoff date. While yesterday WAS 17 years since the issue date, 20 years from the filing date is the longer term here, so that should still apply.

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It was just a few days ago that I commented that we don’t use the word “sinter” enough, even though it is absolutely splendid word, and today I find this:

Yesterday marked the expiry of US Patent 5597589, “Apparatus for producing parts by selective sintering.”


Bring it. Bring the sintering. Now the party starts…

the USPTO granted 5597589 20 years ago, and so if they granted overlapping patents since, they were manifestly in error

Manifest self-evidence doesn’t seem to count for a whole lot these days.

I worked for a really innovative engineering company that produced audio visual equipment used in hospitals. Because the company was small we could develop products on a crazy fast schedule. A lot of the new products were the brainchild of the super smart and business savvy owner. I worked with him directly on several patent applications and was trained by patent lawyers that worked for our major investor.

What I learned from the owner was that if you have a really bright idea, and you a small company, it makes a lot of sense to just go out there and build it and get it on the market than it does to patent the idea first. The little companies fly under the radar a lot, and the patent process is slow.

What I learned from the patent lawyers is that it’s really a big boy’s game, and the obligation of the patent holder to defend their patent. So, say you infringed on this patent, well - sue me! Of course you take a risk, and it’d be expensive if you choose to fight an infringement suit, but it’s very expensive to bring one of those suits - millions of dollars. So, make your competitor spend it, or just stop once they send you a cease and desist letter.

I’m not advocating that everyone go out and violate intellectual property laws, but saying that mostly it’s the large companies with stables of lawyers that really pay attention and have to adhere to patent law. Smaller companies should use their money more wisely on R&D because then they can become the existing market standard ahead of other, larger companies that are slowed by the patent process.

I don’t deal with this scenario very often in my practice, so I took another read of 35 U.S.C. 154. The '589 patent is a child of an application that was filed in 1986 (with several intervening divisionals, continuation-in-parts). The twenty year term is measured from the earliest priority date, which is the filing date of the original parent application. You are correct that the patent term is the longer of 17 years from the issue date and 20 years from the filing date, with the above exception.The patent term is 17 years from the issue date in this case. Thus, the patent is expired.

And, of course, this was not legal advice.

Here’s a question that’s been rolling around in my head for a while. Why are copyrights so much longer than patents? Patents seem fairly reasonable, 20 years, and that’s it. Copyrights are currently at the lifetime of the author plus 70 years, and this seems to change whenever Mickey Mouse is about to go to the public domain. Why the disparity? It seems like production costs of a patented item would very high compared to a copyrighted work (manufacturing assets vs. a mic and a beat), and that sometimes it’s all a patent-holder can do to recoup costs before the patent expires. The cynic in me says that since the US has shifted its focus from material goods to silly movies and songs, we need to protect our imaginary property. But what do I know.

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