A medical device manufacturer has threatened to sue a group of volunteers in Italy who 3D-printed a $1 replica of a valve used for life-saving coronavirus treatments. The original medical device costs about $11,000 if it is supplied by the manufacturer.
A hospital in Italy was running out of these particular valves while desperately treating as many patients for COVID-19 as possible. The hospital’s usual supplier told them that they could simply not make more valves in time, so a search for a way to 3D print replica parts was launched.
Cristian Fracassi and Alessandro Ramaioli, who work at Italian startup Isinnova, offered their company’s printer for the job. But when the two men asked the manufacturer for blueprints they could use to print the desperately-needed replicas, the company declined and threatened to sue them for patent infringement.
Nevertheless, Fracassi and Ramaioli went ahead despite this warning, carefully measuring the valves and somehow managing to 3D-print three different versions of them.
As of March 14, the valves they made have worked on ten patients, according to Massimo Temporelli, the founder of Italian manufacturing solutions company FabLab who helped recruit Fracassi and Ramaioli to print the replica valves.
“[The patients] were people in danger of life, and we acted. Period,” said Fracassi in a Facebook post. He also said that “we have no intention of profiting on this situation, we are not going to use the designs or product beyond the strict need for us forced to act, we are not going to spread the drawing.”
At the time of writing, Italy has 31,506 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 2,503 deaths, coming second only to China in the number of fatalities suffered from the virus.