The reason for having a patent is to tell the world "this is my invention". In screen printing technology, planographic printing by vacuum draw had been discussed for at least two decades before the Strataprinter. A patent assured that the method applied by the Strataprinter was different from previous attempts.
The patents for the Strataprinter are two types. The first is for the method of operating the Strataprinter. The second is the devices that apply the method. These patents are more or less general in scope.
The actual number of inventions necessary for making a working Strataprinter are far more numerous than the inventions of the patents that protect the Strataprinter as a whole. Many of these are held as proprietary trade secrets. Only unique manufacturing methods or designs that are not obvious in the finished product can be kept proprietary without patenting. The manufacturing formulas and tools for constructing the Strataprinter printhead structure and the silicone bladder of the Strataprinter Air-pad Module are examples of secret proprietary developments undisclosed in patents.
As a rule, patenting is only worth the expense if the invention is both obvious and unique. Say to yourself, "has this been done before?" and "is it easy to do with basic skills?" If the answer is no to the first and yes to the last, then the invention needs a patent.
Products that supply improvements to already existing processes, devices or applications are easier to develop and sell than stand-alone, full function products. There is little resistance to add-on's in the established marketplace because they confirm the function of the installed base of a technology and do not threaten it.
The Strataprinter was first conceived as an add-on to traditional screen process machinery to eliminate image distortion in thick-film printing applications. However, it turned out that Strataprinter technology required too many changes in the traditional process to be an add-on. These changes in the process were so complete that they demanded their own system base. The process integrated the pre-press screenmaking operations with the function of the printer so the same process controls could be used for both. The Strataprinter was thus developed as a stand-alone system with a single controler for both screen exposure and printing, a revolutionary concept in printing technology.
Conventional wisdom dictates that separate functions equal separate products. However, from the very outset the concept of the Strataprinter cried out to be a turn-key, desktop, all in one printer. Why? The answer is "because it could". No other process ever had the potential of being this and not to do it would have been ignoring its major benefits.
Criticism of the Strataprinter from the business side is that the purchase of a system requires too much of a committment. It doesn't easily dovetail with traditional skills or with installed equipment or processes. One licensee of Strataprinter patents went out of its way to develop single-function, non-system based printing machines totally ignoring the Strataprinter's pre-press applications. This failed because the benefits of Strataprinter technology are not competitive when compared to other monolithic solutions.
The decision to design the Strataprinter as a modularly expandable, multi-function printing system is based not on market demands but on technical capabilities. The singular benefits of the Strataprinter are capable of supporting their own market.
When the Strataprinter was first demonstrated in 1985 the internal devices needed for its function were just beginning to be available. It was this convergence of availability and need that rapidly changed the Strataprinter from a Kluge to a Mac overnight. Comparison of the two functional schematic descriptions in the 1987 patent show this conclusively!
Three technologies found useful at this stage were the pneumatics of Surface Mount Technology, the electronics of Fuel Injection Technology and the effeciencies made available from the new CMOS logic chips. These, along with the newly available photopolymer emulsions, industrial silicone compounds and low cost high actintic light sources, combined to make it possible to finalize the engineering parameters and begin production after a relatively short period of development (compared to industrial averages).
This was all accomplished with determined research and a lot of help from suppliers. There is a favorite quote from Edwin Land. "You can solve any problem with just the objects in the room." If those objects are the right industrial supply catalogs, this is certainly true.
Everything used by the Strataprinter system is unique to the Strataprinter system. Not only are the exposure unit and printer special to Strataprinter technology but its screens ("printing plates") and even inks are captive products too.
The first components of the system to be manufactured were the Master Control Module, the Printhead and the Screen Cartridge. These components were to be OEM products supplied to "field-of-use" licensees who would use them in specialized printing devices they would design and manufacture.
The first such product was a joint venture project with LDM Products: the Strataprinter Air-pad Module.
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