Jabil says ex-employees stole designs for super-fast 3D printer

The St. Petersburg-based electronics manufacturer has sued Essentium, a Texas 3D printing company, three former Jabil employees and one former contractor in federal court in Tampa.
Jabil says it invested millions of dollars creating a 3D printer 10 times as fast as its next-fastest competitor, but the St. Petersburg-based electronics manufacturer says three former employees and one former Jabil contractor stole the design for their own knockoff. [DIRK SHADD | Times (2018)]
Jabil says it invested millions of dollars creating a 3D printer 10 times as fast as its next-fastest competitor, but the St. Petersburg-based electronics manufacturer says three former employees and one former Jabil contractor stole the design for their own knockoff. [DIRK SHADD | Times (2018)]
Published July 16
Updated July 17

TAMPA — Jabil says it invested millions creating a 3D printer 10 times as fast as its next-fastest competitor, but the St. Petersburg-based electronics manufacturer claims three former employees and a former Jabil contractor stole the design for their own knockoff.

Jabil filed suit last month in U.S. District Court in Tampa against Essentium, a printing company headquartered in a suburb of Austin, Texas, and former Jabil employees Erik Gjovik, Greg Ojeda and William Jack “Terry” MacNeish III, all who live in California, plus former Jabil contractor Lars Uffhausen of New Jersey. Uffhausen, Gjovik and MacNeish are each identified as Essentium co-founders and current executives on the company's website. Ojeda, an Essentium co-founder, now is founder and chief executive officer of RapidNPI in Los Angeles.

"Simply put, Essentium has stolen Jabil’s trade secrets and capitalized on confidential information that Jabil invested thousands of hours over a period of years and millions of dollars to develop," Jabil said in its complaint, filed by attorneys in the Tampa office of the Greenberg Traurig law firm.

Wednesday evening, Essentium called the lawsuit "entirely without merit" and said "we are responding to it aggressively."

"Our corporate values are based around trust, service, transparency and innovation," Essentium board chairman Steve Birdwell said in a statement. "We have never detracted from these values."

Describing Essentium as a disruptor of traditional manufacturing, Birdwell said the company, in partnership with its own supply chain, is "transforming the future of industrial-scale manufacturing. Together we are breaking down barriers of scale, strength, and economics in (3D printing). Nothing will distract us from this work."

At the center of the lawsuit is 3D printing technology: the ability, in this case, to "print" minutely detailed objects by feeding a threadlike filament through a heated extruder that melts and places the material with pinpoint accuracy on a platform, printing new objects a layer at a time. For Jabil, 3D printing is one product line of many. The company has 2,000 employees in Florida and more than 200,000 working at 100 factories and innovation centers in 29 countries. Along with printers, it makes everything from mobile telephone components to medical devices to data centers to household appliances.

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Starting in 2014, Jabil says it spent several years developing "TenX," a 3D printer built around technological breakthroughs in speed, heating and precision that had been limited in other 3D printers. The printer's name came from its ability to print items 10 times as fast as the next-fastest commercially available printer of its type, Jabil said.

Along the way, Jabil said it hired Gjovik, who made $190,000 a year as a director of engineering services for the company's additive manufacturing group, which includes 3D printing; MacNeish, who made $170,000 as a senior principal design engineer and who reported to Gjovik; and Ojeda, who made $165,000 as a business development manager.

But Jabil's lawsuit contends that while they were working on the TenX project, Gjovik, Ojeda, and MacNeish planned to use TenX technology, designs and vendor relationships that were specific to the product to "spin off" their own company as early as 2016.

More than once, the suit said, Gjovik, Ojeda, and MacNeish went to Jabil headquarters in St. Petersburg to work on the TenX project without saying anything about their side project. Jabil also contends that the former employees used private emails and document storage technology to discuss and store proprietary Jabil designs; poached vendors that Jabil had identified and developed relationships with; used Jabil credit cards to buy components that were shipped to their homes to be used in their "competing endeavors;" tried to get a key member of Jabil’s 3-D printing team to quit and join their company; and violated confidentiality agreements they had signed.

During their employment, the company says, Gjovik, Ojeda, and MacNeish also represented Jabil in negotiations with Essentium Materials, an earlier version of Essentium, about a possible licensing or partnership agreement. After that deal failed to gel, MacNeish left Jabil and got a job at Essentium Materials in September 2017. Uffhausen joined Essentium Materials at about the same time. Gjovik and Ojeda left Jabil the following month, the company said.

The four were part of a group that incorporated Essentium in January 2018, the suit said. When the company launched its own "High Speed Extrusion" printer months later, it was "far sooner than would have been possible through its own legitimate efforts," Jabil's lawsuit said, contending that the Essentium product used the TenX design and some hardware and software that, in some cases, Jabil vendors custom-made for the TenX.

Jabil is seeking an unspecified amount of punitive and other types of damages as well as an injunction stopping Essentium from selling its printer.

"Jabil is committed to protecting our intellectual property in our cutting-edge 3D printer innovations," Jabil spokeswoman Michelle Smith said in an email Tuesday. "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."

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Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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