No good deed goes unpunished, and that includes volunteers in Italy who could be facing legal action by a medical device manufacturer for 3D printing a life-saving valve.
As The Verge reports, the breathing equipment being used in Italy to help treat coronavirus patients requires a special valve to function. Each valve costs $11,000, and last Thursday a hospital in northern Italy ran out. When the manufacturer informed the hospital no more valves were available, volunteers stepped in to help.
Christian Fracassi and Alessandro Ramaioli, of Italian startup Isinnova, responded to the call for help by providing a 3D printer capable of producing the valve. The pair contacted the valve manufacturer asking them to share the 3D schematics so they could print them, but the request was refused. Not only that, legal action for patent infringement was threatened.
When lives are in the balance, people tend not to worry too much about legal action. “Do you know in the movies when someone is about to fall into the ravine? Usually at that moment the protagonist arrives and throws him a rope, but this rope is frayed … At that moment one thinks only of saving who is falling. Then, once safe … you can reason,” Fracassi wrote in a translated Facebook post.
Fracassi and Ramaioli studied the $11,000 valve, figured out the dimensions, and started 3D printing them. It worked, and although not as durable as the official valve, the cost difference is staggering. The pair’s 3D printed valves only cost $1 each and have the added bonus of being produced on-site and on-demand.
It’s unclear if the medical device manufacturer intends to push ahead with legal action. However, I suspect that if it does, Fracassi and Ramaioli won’t have any trouble finding legal representation, and whatever the end result, the medical company’s reputation will be ruined.