Freesteel Blog » Delcam’s 18 months of patenting secrecy are up

Delcam’s 18 months of patenting secrecy are up

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 at 12:43 pm Written by:

We all know how rotten software patents are. Unfortunately, software companies are too often run by idiots who play the game by contributing to the worsening of the situation and doing absolutely nothing to make it any better.

Anyways, 19 months ago in March 2012 we got a press release:

Delcam will preview its new Vortex strategy for high-speed area clearance on stand 4011 at the MACH exhibition to be held in Birmingham from 16th to 20th April…

Vortex, for which Delcam has a patent pending, has been developed by the company specifically to gain the maximum benefit from solid carbide tooling, in particular those designs that can give deeper cuts by using the full flute length as the cutting surface. It can be used for two- and three-axis roughing, three-plus-two-axis area clearance and for rest machining based on stock models or reference toolpaths…

Unlike other high-speed roughing techniques that aim to maintain a constant theoretical metal-removal rate, the Vortex strategy produces toolpaths with a controlled engagement angle for the complete operation. This maintains the optimum cutting conditions for the entire toolpath that would normally be possible only for the straight-line moves. As a result, the cutting time will be shorter, while cutting will be undertaken at a more consistent volume-removal rate and feed rate, so protecting the machine.

Sounded a lot like the Adaptive Clearing strategy which I invented in 2004, and was most accurately replicated in 2009 by Mastercam.

I’ve yet to find a CAM company that doesn’t lie about its toolpath strategies being the only ones on the market to do a particular thing. In this case, it wasn’t even on the market.

Attempting to follow this up, I fired off an email to the Intellectual Property Office:

Dear IPO,

I have a simple question. If a company states that it has a patent pending, do they have a duty to disclose its application number so that I can look it up?

I have searched under the relevant company name and cannot find a patent pending that remotely fits the description.

The details of this case are:

16 March 2012 press release:

“””Vortex, for which Delcam has a ***patent pending***, has been developed by the company specifically to gain the maximum benefit from solid carbide tooling, in particular those designs that can give deeper cuts by using the full flute length as the cutting surface.”””

I have sent them an email and received no response. I don’t think they will want to respond if they don’t have to as they should know I have already developed what appears to be the same algorithm and would likely file an objection. So it would really help if there was a duty to state the application number.

Perhaps you could send them an email and ask them to clarify which patent pending they are referring to?

yours, etc.

I received the following reply from the Office of Quick-and-Dirty Government Granted Monopolies Made Without Any Justification In The Public Interest:

Dear Sir,

All patent applications are confidential initially.

In the UK only four pieces of information appear in the patent journal: the applicant’s name, the title of the patent, the application number and the filing date. For the next 18 months the application is kept confidential – the specification is not open to public inspection and only the applicant or his authorised representative can access the file.

During this period phrases like ‘Patent Pending’ and ‘Patent Applied For’ can be used but they have very little value, because no one can access the specification to check.

After 18 months the application is then published and the actual specification becomes available for anyone to see.

Protection for the application greatly increases on publication because once the specification enters the public domain everyone is on notice of its detail. It is not possible to seek damages for infringement until the patent grants, but, if it does, a court can backdate damages back to the day of publication. Section 69(1) Patent Act 1977.

After publication phrases like ‘Patent Pending’ and ‘Patent Applied For’ have greater meaning because they can be followed by a published patent application number.

Here is what the disclosure looked like:

And sure enough we now have the patent application disclosed on 13 Jun 2013.

Abstract: A method of generating a plurality of cutting paths for a material remover, which generates a set of offsets from the perimeter of the model for each corner region of the model; creates, for each offset within each of the sets, a subset of cutting paths based upon each offset with each cutting path within the subset separated from a neighbouring cutting path within the subset by a stepover, wherein a portion of a first cutting path in one of the subsets has a distance of greater than the stepover to the last cutting path in a previous subset; joins cutting paths from within a subset at each corner region forming complete cutting paths causing a material remover to move between corner regions; and creates backfill cutting paths used to remove material from between subsets of cutting paths in the portion greater than the stepover between the subsets.

Skipping past the boilerplate where we define what a computer is as though it were just another mechanical machine in order to pretend we are not patenting software “as such”, we see that… well I can’t be bothered to read this worthless lawyerese crap in too much detail as I’ve got a lot of actual programming work to get on with. You know, stuff that compiles and actually runs on a computer and does stuff, as opposed to wastes paper.

Here is a diagram from the patent application.

Skim-reading, it seems to describe a way of rounding off the sharp corner collapses in an offset clearing toolpath by offsetting further in, and then offsetting back out before trimming back to the original offset.

On page 6 there is this absolutely classic footnote:

What the hell? Did they write it in crayon? Someone teach them to use LaTeX.

As of September 2013, they’ve got their webpage and their swanky youtube video (942 views), but it’s still advertised as “COMING SOON”.

Say, maybe if we wasted less time and money dicking about with software patents, we might even get this feature done. Or why not try and replicate the Adaptive Clearing technology — which works and is not patented — so that your customers have something good to use?

What is wrong with this industry, where everyone is frightened of exchanging ideas and engaging in honest competition? You know, we could have a proper technological ecosystem where progress is made, and there is a constantly advancing state of the art. This kind of nonsensical retrograde step is pathetic. There’s only one or two of us programmers doing this kind of work in each company, so we don’t have spare capacity to waste.

I’ve been at this sort of work for 20 years now. It’s getting boring. Not one cross-industry technical meeting in all this time — ever — about the successful approaches to toolpath generation. It’s ridiculous. Do you know how much energy could be generated if such a summit were held between the key programmers from around the world? More than from any poxy multi-million dollar buy-out takeover by any on-the-skids investment fund. We’re dying out here.


  • 1. Greg H. replies at 28th August 2013, 8:37 pm :

    It’s the world we live in. This one is the CAD/CAM game.

    It’s just the way the world works these days. Reminds me of a lyric.

    “Money for nothing, chicks for free”.

    A lyric from Dire Straits.

  • 2. Dieter replies at 29th August 2013, 4:13 am :

    Have to admit the DELCAM video was pretty good especially at the 2:13 mark, $$$$.

    But it looks like DELCAM is trying a variation with the machine DNA to optimize the code to the dynamics of the machine.

    I know SolidCAM has a variation where they dynamically adjust the feed based on engagement of the tool (radial and axial). Which I believe is similar to Hypermill hypermaxx

    But I do like Hypermills ability to apply adaptive tool paths in 5 axis simultaneous.

    My biggest gripe isn’t the CAM software but the differences in controller usability. It’s a huge difference using a Heidenhain vs a Fanuc in 5 axis.

  • 3. Julian replies at 30th August 2013, 8:38 am :

    The world is what we make it. I’m just minded that programming languages and operating systems got out of this rut over a decade ago, and efficient software in these sectors is recognized as a public good. All the different software companies collaborate on the C++ programming language standard, for example, to the great benefit of all of us, so we have one excellent bullet-proof concept of this language, not 50 different mediocre variants — like we have with controllers.

    A lot of it has to be the fault of the customers, particularly the large ones, who don’t demand industry reforms (eg obvious stuff such as the production of proper independent and trusted benchmarks and comparisons between the machining strategies).

    To be fair, the biggest customer (the one which invented CNC) the US Air force, has done what they can, to the extent of paying for a reference implementation to be made of controller software in the early 1990s. But if none of the vendors pick it up, preferring to continue to create unnecessarily costly and incompatible products that the market is happy to pay for, there’s not a lot they can do.

    I think the effort got resurrected as LinuxCNC by a bunch of hobbyists.

    So once again — as with the development of the Linux operating system — it’ll be all the hackers who put in their time and effort for decades to make it happen, before industry finally stops actively fighting to undermine it and starts freeloading off all their hard work.

  • 4. Jon Banquer replies at 30th August 2013, 1:36 pm :

    The problems with the CADCAM industry are a lot more complex than you make them out to be in this blog post.

    Jon Banquer
    CADCAM Technology Leaders group on LinkedIn

  • 5. Julian replies at 30th August 2013, 6:20 pm :

    So we should just give up and not do anything in particular, eh?

  • 6. Jon Banquer replies at 30th August 2013, 7:04 pm :

    No you shouldn’t give up. What you should do is recognize that your problems are just a small part of what’s so wrong with the CADCAM business and put your efforts into a small but vocal group of people that want real change in CADCAM.

    I would suggest you read the CADCAM Technology Leaders group on LinkedIn. I’ve made it very clear that CADCAM Technology Leaders is the wrong place for CADCAM product fanboi’s and that it’s a group designed to foster a more diverse understanding of not only CADCAM programs but why the CADCAM industry needs to change.

    With almost 800 members, some of whom are your peers, I think I’m doing something right.

    Jon Banquer
    CADCAM Technology Leaders group on LinkedIn

  • 7. David replies at 23rd September 2013, 3:44 pm :

    The CAD/CAM world could do with some lessons from the auto industry relative to collaboration. I am responsible for the direction of Mastercam’s Dynamic Mill and have many, many ideas to progress it and even exploit it in new ways. It all comes down to resources or lack thereof. Secrecy overrides human beings coming together to bounce ideas off each other face to face, feeding off each other, until momentum builds and they are encompassed in a hyper focused beautiful brainstrom discussion. So instead, we browse forums and blogs to fulfill our crave for collaboration…

    “There’s only one or two of us programmers doing this kind of work in each company”

    The world deserves better.

  • 8. Jon Banquer replies at 1st November 2013, 4:57 am :

    CADCAM is a dirty business. Very few CADCAM users want to acknowledge just how dirty it really is. The link below is just one example that makes it clear that CADCAM users need to start getting more demanding about claims that CADCAM companies make. When I call CADCAM companies on their dirty tricks I’m usually met with hostility from both the CADCAM company and their fanboi’s.

    CADCAM Technology Leaders group on LinkedIn has now grown to almost 950 members in the short time since I made the comment above. My attempt to raise the bar and get CADCAM users to start being more vocal about how CADCAM companies do business seems to be paying off.

    Here is a recent thread that shows just how dirty the CADCAM business can be:

    Jon Banquer

  • 9. 5axes replies at 7th November 2013, 6:30 pm :

    <a href="; title="Birmingham tech company Delcam set to be bought by US firm Autodesk for £172 million

    So you should have your answer in a few months.


  • 10. Jon Banquer replies at 9th November 2013, 12:12 am :

    “It all comes down to resources or lack thereof.”

    It all comes down to good management and enough software sales. For CNC Software, good software management is a real problem and it shows very clearly in Mastercam.

    Even with great toolpaths, like your Dynamic ones, it’s more often than not a nightmare to apply them. The reasons for this are:

    Chaining is both inconsistent and often unnecessary in Mastercam because Mastercam makes such poor use of the information a solid model contains. This means your efforts are not appreciated as much as they should be.

    An acquisition of CNC Software by Battery Ventures/Vero Software would be in Mastercam users best interests and while not the ideal solution should have some benefits over what you experience now.

    Vero Software is doing a much better job updating their legacy code CAM applications than CNC Software has done with Mastercam. I’d give them a grade of “A” so far. I’d give CNC Software an “F”.

    Jon Banquer
    CADCAM Technology Leaders group on LinkedIn

  • 11. Jon Banquer replies at 28th December 2013, 2:45 pm :

    “Secrecy overrides human beings coming together to bounce ideas off each other face to face, feeding off each other, until momentum builds and they are encompassed in a hyper focused beautiful brainstrom discussion. So instead, we browse forums and blogs to fulfill our crave for collaboration…”

    It’s no longer a secret that after 8 years, Steve Mastrangelo, the Director Of Software Engineering for CNC Software, is no longer employed there. According to Steve Mastrangelo’s LinkedIn profile, he’s now looking for new opportunities. In the 8 years Steve Mastrangelo was employed at CNC Software Mastercam did not get significantly better with the exception of toolpaths. Many long standing bugs and problems have existed in Mastercam for over ten years. It took over 5 years (X2 to X7 MU1)just to get ViewSheets to work properly in Mastercam. This shows just how out of touch CNC Software is with end users needs and with properly developing Mastercam. These kind of personnel changes don’t happen when things are going well, no matter what kind of spin is attempted.

    When it comes to secrecy, not being honest with end users, putting dealers before end users, supporting destructive “circle” cliques/rabid fanboi’s, etc. CNC Software is easily the worst in the CADCAM business.

    As 2013 nears an end, CADCAM Technology Leaders group has grown to over 1,350 members. There is very good reason for that.

    Jon Banquer
    CADCAM Technology Leaders group on LinkedIn

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