In an interesting turn of events, a segment of the 3D printing (3DP) community is leveraging the concept of crowdsourcing to find prior art and file it using the preissuance submission process.

3D printing—more formally known as additive manufacturing—is a technology for creating three dimensional objects from CAD files. Generally, 3DP works by fusing layer upon layer of materials, such as plastics or powder metals, to build a final, fully formed product. “Makers,” a segment of the 3DP community, are entrepreneurs, garage, and school lab innovators who practice 3DP. They are ordinary people using 3D printers to make things like working vinyl records, cases for cellphones, jewelry, art, and even 3D printers that can self-replicate. Makers are generally dedicated to open availability of the technology, and decide, collectively, whether and what intellectual property is appropriate in the 3DP world.

Makers have discovered preissuance submissions as a method to combat 3DP-related patents they do not like. Organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are marshaling the Makers, using crowdsourcing to identify prior art to challenge 3DP-related patent applications they view as “threatening” or “dangerous.” The EFF website asks Makers to help identify 3DP-related patent applications to attack. It then directs Makers to the Ask Patents website, where a “call for prior art” about targetapplications is posted on a dedicated webpage. Webpage visitors can identify possible prior art and rate it until the cream rises to the top. Once the best prior art has been identified, Makers, led by the EFF or others, use the preissuance submissions process to file it with the USTPO. As of May 2013, the EFF filed crowdsourced prior art in connection with six 3DP-related patent applications.

The Makers’ use of preissuance submissions has profound implications for patent applicants everywhere. Coupling the crowdsourcing of prior art with preissuance submissions could be copied in any area of technology with an active open platform movement. And the Internet and social media are very effective tools for forming such movements for any type of technology. It remains to be seen if this crowdsourcing-preissuance submission model will catch on, and what effect it will have if it does.

Only time will tell. A more in-depth discussion of this issue can be found here.