There's been a lot of discussion around patents in HotEnd-land lately. There have also been a lot of complex corporate-sounding "explanations" from others, and this has caused confusion.
We want to be 100% clear about our stance. We want to explain in the plainest, most direct, and comprehensible language. Here's the no-nonsense deal - we hope it makes sense.
We are patenting some things, but:
- We still believe in open source, and will continue to contribute
- We're making a binding promise about non-enforcement that we think is fair
We need to be profitable to achieve our goal of changing the way humanity manufactures goods, through developing better HotEnds, extruders, and so on. This is how we did it from day one:
- We invented things
- We manufactured those things
- We sold them for more than they cost us to manufacture
- We used the extra money generated from selling the things created to fund more of step 1 and step 2
We quite like this business model – no empty promises, no hot air, no investors that don't share our goals; just cool products and technical progress. We intend to keep doing it this way.
However, there are some problems that have started to endanger our ability to keep doing it this way, which is annoying, because we'd rather just focus on making cool new stuff. So, for the reasons below, we'll be doing a bit of the patenting thing.
As we try to push the technology in the 3D printing industry forward, making technical leaps gets harder and more expensive.
- Some people just want to do the manufacturing and selling for profit bit, without the inventing bit. That's kind of an unfair move, especially when you don't even have the proper manners to do the "making it" part well. Certainly not when conditions of open source licenses are disrespected, images and content we've put a lot of effort into are taken, and trademarks like "E3D" are used to mislead folks into buying things that aren't made by us.
- Some people want to do the patenting bit, without actually doing the inventing bit! Lots of companies are filing large amounts of broad patents on things that are not really in the spirit of "protecting things you really put effort into inventing".
- The UK government is giving extremely beneficial tax breaks to patented products. It would be silly not to make use of these tax breaks when we're doing so much R&D. This means that patenting inventions lets us throw more resources at step 4; making more cool stuff, faster.
The great danger is that if the amount of money created from step 3 does not exceed the amount of money needed to invent more things, or manufacture those same things to sell to you, then we won't be able to contribute to changing the way that humanity manufactures goods.
We also want to be 100% honest and not dance around the fact that being able to reward talented people economically allows us to build a better team too, which all helps with step 1.
So, we are fairly sure we need to "do patents", but we are absolutely sure we want to do so without being obnoxious or unfair about it.
So, here's our plan:
- Patent only exactly the very specific things we really invented. Not file the broadest, widest patents that block people from also contributing to technical progress for our own financial gain. We want to encourage invention and progress not hold it back, so we just want to make sure we cover those very specific inventions that are actually novel, so we can keep the invent > invest cycle going.
- Make a legally binding promise to never enforce our patents against anything done privately and non-commercially, or against academics conducting experiments, that kind of thing. If you're someone who wants to see more E3D products, and more technical progress, then we're all wanting the same things.
- Keep open-sourcing things wherever we can: we will all benefit if we can let you design cool things around any new hotness we bring.
What we're doing isn't something we take lightly or particularly enjoy, but as we're pretty sure we have to do this, we want to be sure we get it right.
Open-source is not dead at E3D.
We just have to make sure we're able to hold our own against those for whom "open source" was never even alive in the first place. In the spirit of open source, we're open to suggestions or improvements about the above stance, and invite your feedback.