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Formlabs faces another patent battle over 3-D printers

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A competitor has sued 3-D printing startup Formlabs Inc. over patent infringement, the second time in recent years that the MIT spinoff has faced intellectual property claims.

The new lawsuit, filed in federal court in California on Monday, argues that Formlabs' printers illegally mirror the patented designs of Michigan-based EnvisionTEC Inc. EnvisionTEC is seeking unspecified monetary damages along with an injunction against Formlabs.

Formlabs, which raised a $35 million investment round in August, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. The Somerville-based company settled a similar federal lawsuit in 2014 by agreeing to pay 8 percent of net sales to larger competitor, 3D Systems Inc., for an unspecified period.

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EnvisionTEC mentioned the previous lawsuit in its claim Monday, citing the 3D Systems case as evidence that Formlabs "is presumably aware of infringement liabilities stemming from patent infringement."

Product designers and engineers have used 3-D printing for years to make prototypes and models, but advances in technology have made it possible to build smaller, less expensive models that can fit on a desktop.

The machines can turn software blueprints into physical objects by depositing successive layers of special materials, such as melted plastics, that harden into solid form. Formlabs, founded in 2011, makes 3-D printers that are used by product designers, artists, and other professionals who work with high-resolution models and prototypes.

The company's technology, known as stereolithography, builds objects by shining lasers into a small pool of special resins that harden when exposed to intense light.

That method can create objects with especially fine detail, and it has long been used in industrial-grade machinery.

Formlabs has said it ships more than 1,000 printers per month, with list prices up to $3,500 each. It also sells the photoreactive resins needed to make 3-D printed parts. Some high-end industrial models, by contrast, can cost $20,000 or more.

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Curt Woodward can be reached at curt.woodward@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @curtwoodward.