No matter what industry you are in, if you want to own your space and make a name for yourself, then getting patents for your products is the natural way to go. In the 3D printing industry, there are a growing number of companies filing patents as quickly as they can in areas like color and video games. Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard talk about some of those companies and see how their patents play out. They go deeper into the color systems they offer and printing video game characters, reviewing how effective their claims are and bringing things to life. Get inside this great episode to learn more about the world of 3D print patents, especially this 2017.
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3D Print Patents For 2017
We’re going to talk about our favorite subject. We tend to hit this one quite often, patents.
There’s a bunch of new ones that have come out in late 2016 that are worth talking about.
Let’s start with the color one. I can’t stop the idea of color. There’s a CMYK Microsoft patent that was filed.
They got it issued. September 2016, they were issued a patent on a CMYKW 3D printing method is the best way to put it. It’s a system or a method for doing that. This is getting to be a crowded space in 3D print patents because there’s a lot of people working on this.
I think it’s a flawed plan. It shows that they think they can model regular printing like paper printing, like ink printing with filament. You can’t. They’re two different material sources. They’re two different color theories that go into it. What it shows me is they don’t have a colorist or anyone on that side of the world on their team. They don’t understand either the value of it. They’re like, “We get a color, it’s fine,” but it’s not the color. It’s a flawed approach to me to think of it. If you substitute it and I do believe it’s there, they don’t have anyone researching it or doing it from anything I’ve seen. If you say what’s going to be C, what’s normally cyan, isn’t cyan. It’s instead this color blue that is something that needs to be tested and researched but a different type of blue mixed with a different type of yellow, then you might get it. They’re not going to be what we understand the colors to be for cyan, magenta, yellow and black.
It goes even beyond that. The reality is the way that plastics like PLA, ABS, or any of the other plastics out there get colored is not the same. The delivery system is different being in plastic. The amount of pigment it takes to color plastic is different. Once you create a filament that’s of a certain color, let’s say the cyan. When you need to punch up the cyan in a CMYK plastic mix to achieve a certain color, you can’t add enough plastic to increase the pigment enough. You can’t add enough filament to increase the pigment to achieve the color you want to achieve in every case.
To say it a different way, thinking about it this way, a computer is going to be picking. Essentially some software algorithm is going to be saying, “I need this amount of cyan.” It’s not all that different from the way those Spectrum3D guys did it. They did it on a voxel basis, on a pixel by pixel basis. By the way, I checked them out and they’re gone. They showed it in at CES 2015 or something and they’re gone. They haven’t been back. Their blog post hasn’t been updated since then. They’re way gone. A couple of young inventor students who realize starting a business was way more than they were in for.
You’re talking about the ones that we saw at that CES that was doing the dyes into clear material. I liked what they were doing in principle but it was different.
What they were doing is what was on a voxel basis. Thinking about it the same way in that way. An algorithm is going to be deciding you need three little hits of cyan filament in a row. It could be 1 mm. It could have a measurement to it and not be just pixels and that thing. It’s the same thinking. That’s the way our regular printers work, they go many dots.
They’re doing optical mixtures of dot patterns.
They’re thinking that way as well. When you look at that and you say, “I need one millimeter of cyan mixed next to this one, mixed next to this one.” When you’re drawing it out of the filament, when you’re drawing that through, there’s a different amount of color quality in each one of those things. What gets the cyan to show up next to the magenta or gets it to mix into making another color, which is what we’re after here. We’re not after having every single print look like cyan separate, magenta separate. You can do that but when you’re trying to blend those two together, there’s a different amount of blue, different amount of that cyan mixed into there and then filler. There’s a different amount of magenta mixed into it and then filler. You cannot algorithmically figure out unless you knew and you controlled the filament itself. You wouldn’t know how much cyan was in there and how much magenta is in there and how to then establish and make this other color you were trying to go for like maybe purple.
The systems by which this Microsoft patent has been issued on is a system of taking CMYK and adding white W of filaments. You’re talking about five different filaments feeding into one nozzle, one extruder. Based on the percentage of feeding each of those differently, mixing them theoretically, you could achieve any color. It is not going to work that way. It doesn’t work that way. We’ve seen another 3D printer out there that attempts to do this exact same thing.3D printing is the natural extension of bringing things to real life. Click To Tweet
You’re talking about Something 3D, their Chameleon printer. That’s horrible.
It does the exact same thing and we’ve seen it feeding all those in there. When you look at the objects that they’re printing, they’re all muddy colors.
It’s because they can’t get that color to punch up. They can’t get it close enough. They can’t get enough of it in there.
It would be different if a system for 3D printing was created where you had the ability to have one filament, maybe it’s a white if you want to have a white base or maybe it’s a natural. I’m not claiming to have invented this or figured it out but in theory, you’d have one color film running through it. If you had different filaments that were hyper-saturated with more percentage of pigments than filament is now conventionally made with, you could then add the right amount of what is colorants only. Not filaments but colorants only into it, in line, fast enough and precisely enough to be able to change colors to make any color you wanted. That would be a more plausible, realistic way to achieve it. The way everybody’s trying to do is saying, “Buy these 4 or 5 based color filaments and you can get any color in the world.” It’s not going to work.
The color system doesn’t work like that. Let me point out that the Something 3D version, the Chameleon version, what they’re doing is different than what Microsoft has in their patent which is they’re essentially leaving all those colors behind. All of the colors are depositing somewhere in every single row. They’re not always at the surface.
The colors that they don’t want to be using right now or when they’re changing colors, they’re being put into either inside of the object or the infill areas.
It’s like creating extra wall thickness and things like that, which is why they’re making them muddier. That’s part of the problem there. The Spectrum3D problem was that they didn’t understand is that you have to amp up the amount of color you deposit. For yellow, for instance, it doesn’t stand out. It doesn’t hold out. The way it seemed to me was that they couldn’t quite get their algorithm to adjust and take longer to put in yellow than it did to put in blue. It didn’t adjust for that. They all took the same amount of time and dropped the same amount of drops.
What I like about this is this seems to be a particular area of interest to a lot of companies. They’re all going after it and trying to solve the problem. They’re all rushing also to file patents as quickly as they can because they all want to own the space. The reality is we’ve seen many different companies working with color and adding multiple filaments into one extruder. This is going to be interesting to see how these patents play out.
The other thing I want to talk about is it does sound to me and maybe I’m misreading the patent or whatever, but the way that it reads to me is that it’s all polygons of one color of 3D prints before it switches color. It’s printing all the cyan, magenta, and yellow, each in separate and they’re printing them around the whole layer. That says to me that we’re not blending the colors before we print them out which is problematic to begin with. The only way that you can do it is by pixelizing the dots. As we know from pointless paintings, they still look separate at the end of the day.
I read that part of the patent as well. They were referring to different colors being used in different slices or in different portions of different slices of the print and optical mixing them. That was a weird part of the patent and the claims. When somebody files a patent, they try to cover every different possibility that they’ve conceived of. That was probably not the main intent, although it sounds a lot more like what the ZMorph and their Voxelizer software does that we’ve researched and talked about a bit on a previous episode.
I love their printer. They are showing smart ways on how you would use color. It’s not going to imitate a painting. That’s not what its point is.
What they’re doing with ZMorph, instead of saying that they’re combining CMYK and they can achieve any color of the rainbow on command, which is what Microsoft and others are trying to do like the Chameleon, they’re saying they can do which we are skeptics of in all fairness. Instead, ZMorph is saying, “You can feed a couple of different colors into our single nozzle and achieve some beautiful patterns using one color in different areas or mixing them to achieve a different color in certain areas.” They’re not claiming to have a color system where you can achieve any color of the Pantone rainbow. If you look at any of the images of what they’re doing, it is the most effective that I’ve seen so far at combining colors.
They are effective in it. They’ve smartly decided to look at it from a user approach. How would you want to use multiple colors in your prints? When you approach it from that direction, you don’t make this tech mistake which to me is the CMYK. You don’t have an application error. Here’s the thing, I don’t want CMYK. I don’t want a crappy color imitation. I want the color I want. I want it to match my Pantone if I’m designing products. I want it to match my decor and my pink color if it’s Sherwin-Williams. Those are what we want as users. We don’t care about how you get there. That’s not important to us.
I agree with you. For instance, if I were going to use the Chameleon printer let’s say and it has five filaments capable and you can do that, I would rather find the five colors that I want to use. Five is probably too many for any one object, but let’s say you wanted to and it made sense. I would create my model where I have different regions of the print, where I’m using each of those different colors in a pattern to achieve a certain look and not try to mix those colors. It’s in the mixing of them that’s flawed. The only thing that you can do predictably to a certain degree is to have a gradient blend between different colors over a long period of the print. We’ve seen that’s the first thing everybody did. Even with the Dutch Builder when we used and reviewed that printer, that was the most and the only effective thing in a lot of ways that you could do with mixing of colors. It was to have a gradient blend over a period of time.
The mistake is thinking that users want full-color 3D printing. I don’t think that that’s an expectation for an FFF printer. That’s the mistake right there. I want the color I want. Do I want the capability of putting colors in multiple locations on my print? Yes. I want it to run smoothly. I don’t want it to make bad seams. I don’t want them to blend together and make this dirty little mix of colors in between. I don’t want to have a discharged pile somewhere on the build plate. There are a bunch of things that I want, but I want it to get closer to the way that I make product. The way that I make product is simply by molding and plastics. Those are individually separated. It’s just that those parts tend to get assembled together. Can I do it in one piece? That’s what my goal is. It’s not full-color 3D printing like we think of. Why do I want to make a painting imitation? That’s what we saw. We saw them doing Mona Lisa. Why do I want that in 3D? It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s way better in print media.
I agree with that. It would be more practical to 3D print the object you want and have a way to then print on top of that as opposed processed probably with the way they print your kid’s photograph on a birthday cake in the grocery store. That would make a little more sense. It is exciting what’s happening in the world of color. We’re going to see a lot of advances in 2017. This episode is going to be published almost right after CES 2017. We’re not doing our recap. We won’t be talking about what we’ve seen there. We’re going to go and see in person the ZMorph Printer. We’re going to see probably the Chameleon again. We’re going to see other things there. We’ll have more firsthand knowledge of seeing some of these things in person and that will be exciting. We are working hard to get the ZMorph Printer in here for a review. We’ll give you an update on that after CES because we’re going to have a meeting there.
Let’s move on to the other patent that came up. I want to talk about Sony and 3D print video games. The tie-in in this case is you might be printing out your favorite character from your video game. Do we even still call it video games now that it’s digital? I don’t know, but I keep using that term.
There’s a distinction between video games and other games.
They called it a video game in the patent application. I’m not sure.
That’s still legitimate.
I felt old saying that. Either way, the idea is that you’d be able to print out your favorite character which is great. In that case, maybe you want a fuller color application of it. At the same time, you also get into a whole bunch of other areas where this doesn’t make sense on an FFF printer at the end of the day. This is something going an output to a service bureau who then ships it in because Sony is not about to let go of control of their brand anywhere.
It would be interesting to see if they do like what Mattel is supposed to be doing with their ThingMaker in late 2017. They’re going to have some of their actual characters that people can print out at home, all be it in one color.
I sincerely doubt they’re going to start with Barbie or anything like that. They’re not going to start with their precious characters. What I’m saying is maybe bee characters or something like that. I don’t think they’re going to let go of the quality of the output of their brand or let their brand be bastardized in that way. You have to be careful with that. It’s not that I’m saying that they shouldn’t file this patent. Sony should try and own the category if they want. I don’t know that that makes a case for full-color FFF 3D printing. It doesn’t make the case for it to me. It’s still a separate thing. Because you’re a fan doesn’t mean you have a 3D printer.
I’m sure that they’re going to try to control they’re more valuable characters and only allow them to be printed at service bureaus.Even without the liability problems, companies will still have a huge amount of consumer liability in terms of perception. Click To Tweet
They want to make revenue from it too.
They definitely do. Everybody is looking at that in the VR and AR world. They’re all looking at how can we make money at this and how can we bring some of these things you’re seeing to real life. 3D printing is the natural extension of it. The thing that surprises me about the Sony patent is that, isn’t it an obvious step to when you have something in a virtual world, whether it’s a cartoon on a kid’s TV show or it’s in a game or somewhere else virtual that you may want to 3D print that? I have a hard time thinking that the Sony patents can hold up in the long run and they’re going to be able to protect that.
Everybody thought that Amazon’s one-click buy button wasn’t going to hold up either and it did. If you think about it that way, it seems obvious but the technology is moving fast that the patent and trademark office doesn’t catch up as quickly as it should in some of these cases. They filed it, good for them. We’ll see what happens on it. This is something we talked with our friend, John Rich at Moxie about. We had a nice conversation with him. When we were looking at the augmented reality and virtual reality in these video games, the problem is that these models are not designed to be printed. They’re not designed to be safe.
The arms are all in the right places so they don’t break off easily. We’ve talked about those in previous episodes. The biggest issue is that all in all, those types of things cause a tremendous amount of problems. They all have to develop a whole different support structure in their business, a whole different division that’s going to be taking those models and making sure it won’t be the exact same thing. It’s not like you can freeze your character in the exact position that they’re in and send them straight into it without some algorithm that has to process through or a team that has processed it and submits a different file for digital printing.
Here’s where the technology and the patent are going to clash with the reality of what consumers want and with safety standards and other considerations. Even getting something to print properly, depending on the kind of printer you’re printing it on, people are absolutely going to want to freeze that character in a certain pose in the game and then print it. What I see them probably doing first, because they’re going to want to allow that consumer that is demanding this or wanting it to do that, they’re probably going to say, “18 or 15 years old and older.” What was it that we learned from Mark Trageser who worked at Mattel and these other places? If you target something at thirteen-year-old age and higher, you could pretty much do whatever you want safety-wise and not get in trouble.
That’s why they target chem labs that you can buy and microscope kits and things like that. They target those at that age group and they can get away with a lot.
You can do things with kids using x-acto knives. You can get into things that are dangerous or more dangerous for sure and not run into major liability problems.
Even without the liability problems, you have a huge amount of consumer liability in terms of perception. It turned out like crap, it didn’t print well. You’ve got those issues going on. When you hit those, it’s as big a problem as making something unsafe. The reality is you get a reputation for not doing a good enough job. At some point, they are going to have to build an entire department that’s focused on making these things. You might be able to stop it on 1 of 100 positions. They’ve already pretested. Even though you think you’re stopping it as its arm is raised with a battle-axe, it’s stopping at a preset position.
I understand that. What I like about all this is that clearly these patents and the moves these companies are making whether it’s with their printers, their games, their processes or their markets for products is that 3D printing is clearly something that they see as necessary to their futures. The ways in which they’re pushing the edges of whether it’s color or your experience in the game or whatever, there’s a lot of development happening here. It’s bringing exciting new opportunities to consumers and to the market. I’m glad to see these patents being filed. I question whether some of them will hold up or that there hasn’t been prior art that would invalidate them. Unless you’ve got the pocketbook that Microsoft has to go up against them or Sony, you’re talking about some formidable legal opponents there that can probably outspend the majority of us. Unless you get Microsoft going against the Apple on something like this.
I wouldn’t say probably.
That’s also a warning for certain companies. Unless you’re confident that you can show you did something before they ever filed for a patent. Even so, proving that can be costly even if you’re in the right.
This is raising something that has been going through my mind. We have this book that we wrote and we haven’t published it yet. Part of it is that we’ve been struggling with whether or not we wanted to publish it because whether or not there’s a big enough audience for it. Thinking about this topic, this is the perfect case. It’s like, how do you compete against a goliath? That’s what our book is about. I’ve been trying to run through some new title ideas in my mind and see if I can come up with something that makes it work. It’s boring. It wasn’t as fun as battling industry goliaths or anything like that. The IP battles, and things like that. It’s not as fun as that, but protecting your IP on a shoestring. That’s what I came to so far. To our readers out there, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that. It’s a story about how Tom and I have done that over the years, how we use patents, why do we use them in way that we do and how we got ourselves into many cases of hot water and out of them with industry giants like IDEO and Palm Computing to name a couple. The story is an interesting one. It’s the one we get asked to tell all the time when we go to inventor scripts. We weren’t sure whether or not it has enough of a business case and whether there are enough people interested in it.
Especially if it applies to our business and where it’s been moving, which is more in other directions like the 3D printing world where patents are a part of it but it’s not the main focus. Is it worth falling through on or not? I don’t know.
If you have any experience with any of these printers mixing multiple colors and you have some thoughts to share, we’re seeing a lot of muddy colors out there like the Chameleon printer. If you’ve been experimenting with it, maybe even on your own in a kit printer because I’ve seen a lot of YouTube videos of people doing that, we’d love to know about your experience. What do you think about the realities of FFF 3D printing in being able to produce any color by mixing the right filament colors together? Is it real or is it a pipe dream?
As always, I’m putting out my plate. If you are working on a colored 3D printer and you want someone to help you with the color, please call me. It’s on all of our best interests for the industry to move along. You can find me at 3DStartPoint.com.
Thanks for reading, everybody.
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