Florida-based manufacturing services company Jabil has reportedly filed a lawsuit against Texas-based 3D printing company Essentium, Inc., claiming that the latter’s High Speed Extrusion (HSE) technology was stolen from its own research and development. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Tampa, also implicates former Jabil employees Erik Gjovik, Greg Ojeda and William Jack MacNeish III and former Jabil contractor Lars Uffhausen, all of whom co-founded Essentium.
The news of the lawsuit was broken yesterday by the Tampa Bay Times, which reported that that Jabil is going after Essentium because it believes it stole a design for a 3D printer that can print up to 10 times faster than its competitors, which Jabil spent millions developing. Three of the individuals named in the suit, Uffhausen, Gjovik and MacNeish, are still active Essentium co-founders and executives, while Ojeda is now running Los Angeles-based industrial design company, RapidNPI.
The complaint filed by Jabil stipulates that Essentium stole trade secrets pertaining to the 10x faster 3D printer and “capitalized on confidential information” that the Florida-based company invested millions of dollars and years of time in.
The 3D printer in question is known as the “TenX”, which Jabil had been developing since 2014. The innovative technology was developed by a team which included Gjovik, who served as the director of engineering services for Jabil’s AM group; MacNeish, the senior principal design engineer; and Ojeda, who was a business development manager on the project.
Jabil believes that throughout the TenX development, the three planned to use the 3D printing technology and designs—as well as vendor relationships—to found their own company. Essentium, for its part, came into being in early 2018. In January 2019, the company rasied a whopping $22.2 million through a Series A financing round led by BASF Venture Capital.
The lawsuit filed by Jabil contends that the timeline—Essentium released its HSE 3D printer in 2018 following its incorporation—was suspicious and suggests that the product design and technology were already well into development while the Essentium co-founders were at Jabil.
In fact, the lawsuit directly addresses this, saying that Gjovik, Ojeda and MacNeish were working at Jabil on the TenX project without revealing their intentions to launch a side project. The three are also accused of using private emails and document storage to talk about and store proprietary Jabil designs, as well as using Jabil credit cards to purchase components that were sent to their homes to further the side project. The lawsuit also contends that the former Jabil employees encouraged another Jabil team member to quit and join them and that they violated confidentiality agreements.
Adding another layer to the story is that Essentium’s co-founders reportedly represented Jabil in negotiations with Essentium Materials—an earlier version of Essentium—in an effort to partner with it. Though these negotiations did not come to fruition, MacNeish reportedly left Jabil to join Essentium Materials in September 2017. Uffhausen joined the company soon after, while Gjovik and Ojeda both quit Jabil in October 2017.
“As a global leader in additive manufacturing, Jabil is committed to protecting our intellectual property in our cutting-edge 3D printer innovations,” said Michelle Smith, Vice President of Corporate Communications at Jabil. “The misappropriation of our confidential designs, vendor relationships, and other trade secrets by these former employees alleged in the lawsuit necessitated Jabil to protect our substantial investment.”
The lawsuit lays out some serious allegations, which could disrupt Essentium’s business significantly—if not stop it altogether. One of the things Jabil is seeking in its lawsuit is an injunction to stop the company from selling its HSE 3D printer. Watch this space for updates on the developing story.
[UPDATE]: On July 17th, Essentium Chairman of the Board Steve Birdwell issued the following statement:
“I wanted to acknowledge a development that has recently been in the media; and to take this opportunity to assure you of our position.
Jabil has filed a lawsuit against Essentium and four of our co-founders. This action is entirely without merit, and we are responding to it aggressively. Our corporate values are based around trust, service, transparency, and innovation. We have never detracted from these values.
Since our inception, Essentium has been disrupting traditional manufacturing processes. Together with our customers, partners, and our own supply chain, we are transforming the future of industrial-scale manufacturing. Together we are breaking down barriers of scale, strength, and economics in additive manufacturing.”