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Glowforge gets in legal tangle with tech ‘activist’ who questions safety of startup’s laser engravers

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A Glowforge Pro 3D laser engraver. The Seattle startup stands by the safety of its machines in a dispute that led to a lawsuit last fall. (Glowforge Photo)

Glowforge, the Seattle-based maker of 3D laser engravers, has been tangled in a legal dispute with a Las Vegas man who claimed online for years that the startup is selling defective and dangerous machines.

In a filing in King County Superior Court dated Oct. 31, 2023 (see the full suit below), Glowforge accused Jonathan Gleich, a tech enthusiast and self-professed activist, of making false and defamatory allegations about the company and its products on social media.

Contending that Gleich’s alleged conduct was causing harm to Glowforge’s reputation among customers and in the 3D laser printer business community, Glowforge was seeking unspecified damages and injunctive relief restraining Gleich from such conduct.

But last week the company filed a new motion to dismiss its claim against Gleich without prejudice. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for Friday in Seattle.

“It’s deeply concerning when someone makes unfounded allegations about the safety of our products,” Glowforge CEO Dan Shapiro told GeekWire.

But beyond that, Shapiro cited the pending legal matter for his inability to answer why Glowforge sought to dismiss the claim and what its response would be if Gleich continues to speak out about the company.

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Glowforge co-founder and CEO Dan Shapiro with the company’s new Aura laser engraver at the startup’s offices in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood in 2023. (GeekWire File Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Ranked No. 23 on the GeekWire 200 index of of Pacific Northwest startups, Glowforge is one of Seattle’s more high-profile startups. The company has raised $135 million to date from investors including DFJ Growth, Foundry Group, Revolution Growth and True Ventures.

Its main products — often referred to as “printers” — include the Glowforge Plus ($4,995) and Glowforge Pro ($6,995) machines, and the lower priced Aura ($1,200), which was released last July as a way to attract a wider audience of consumers to home crafting.

Comments in online forums, on the Better Business Bureau website, and in reports filed with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Consumer Products Division of the Washington state Attorney General’s Office demonstrate that customer concerns and complaints about Glowforge extend beyond just Gleich’s assertions.

Perhaps true to how the dispute originated, Gleich had plenty to say in an interview with GeekWire about how he arrived at this point with Glowforge.

“I’m a nobody. I’m a rando on the internet. I’m a geek,” Gleich said. “I’m basically doing this to force them into doing the right thing.”

On his own Wikipedia page, Gleich details some of his past tech pursuits and geeky passions.

Self-described tinkerer Jonathan Gleich. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Gleich)

In 2008, Brooklyn Paper featured Gleich in an article about his daily commute in New York City, where he had been ticketed by police for riding a Segway without a registration. In 2009, he won first prize in the Motorized Float division at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, appearing as Zoltar from the film “Big” on the same two-wheeled electric device.

Gleich calls himself a maker, a tinkerer and an inventor. A former IT professional, he’s got dozens of projects posted under the username Macgeek on Instructables, an online community for people who like to make stuff.

A section on his site, in which he refers to himself as an “activist,” mentions his efforts to “raise awareness” about Glowforge and alleged problems with their machines.

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About three years ago, he got his hands on a Glowforge Plus through Amazon to try it out and do some prototyping for other projects. He got hooked.

“I was happily using it and creating things and I was having a ball being a crafter,” Gleich said.

Gleich said he bought the machine new, with a one-year warranty. He had an urge to open it up, play around and modify the engraver in some way. “My joke is I void warranties,” he said.

But rather than do that to his new machine, he bought a used one from a private seller. And then another. And before long word got out in online Glowforge groups and forums that Gleich was a guy who was opening up machines, fixing them, selling used parts, offering repair advice, etc.

“Once I started taking apart machines for the parts, I started noticing certain patterns,” Gleich said. This was when he says he started to find high voltage wires with holes burned in the wiring insulation, inside Glowforge machines.

Images of high voltage wires with burn marks that tech enthusiast Jonathan Gleich said were caused by a defect in Glowforge 3D laser engravers. The company sued Gleich over his claims on social media. (Photos courtesy of Jonathan Gleich)

In posts on social media and in photographs he shared with GeekWire, Gleich cites those burned wires as proof of an alleged manufacturing defect. Glowforge called the claims “inaccurate and misleading” and said a Facebook post in October 2022 “generated numerous negative responses from those relying on the false information, including inquiring whether Glowforge would issue a recall.”

Several incident reports detailing wire-related issues with Glowforge machines were sent to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission from a variety of Glowforge owners, and can be viewed here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

“I am one of hundreds to have this happen,” reads one report from a Glowforge customer. “I love the machines and I’ve had six all together but the company needs to help their customers better than this. They need to send us all a new machine with the defected wire addressed.”

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‘I’m a nobody. I’m a rando on the internet. I’m a geek. I’m basically doing this to force them into doing the right thing.’

— Jonathan Gleich

Two months before filing suit against Gleich, Glowforge sent him a cease and desist letter in August 2023, saying that his “false, misleading, and inflammatory statements are intentionally directed at attempting to cause damage to our business.”

In its complaint against Gleich, Glowforge said, “all of the claims through government agencies have been reviewed and dismissed or closed without investigation.”

Gleich said he was told by Glowforge that normal wear and tear on internal wiring is covered under existing warranty policies, and that there are no safety issues with the high voltage wire.

Shapiro told GeekWire that the company has “spent years focused on ensuring the safety of our products. In fact, to the best of our knowledge, we are the only company in our field that has its products tested by an OSHA-designated nationally recognized testing laboratory,” called TÜV SÜD.

Shapiro founded the company in 2015 with fellow startup veterans Mark Gosselin, the current CTO, and Tony Wright, who left the company in 2017. Shapiro previously sold the startup Sparkbuy to Google, and he created Robot Turtles, a coding board game for kids that was one of the most successful campaigns ever on Kickstarter.

Beyond the legal dispute, Glowforge has faced its share of bumps along its journey. After setting a 30-day crowdfunding record in 2015 with $27.9 million in sales for its initial 3D engraver, Glowforge was still dealing with frustrated buyers two years later as it was hit with shipping delays.

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Most recently, the startup, which employed 145 people last summer, cut 30 jobs in December and then went through more layoffs in early February after an investment round fell through.

Jonathan Gleich has posted images of the bottoms of Glowforge machines in which red markings are visible on screws. He contends that the marks signify a machine has been worked on by the company, which Glowforge disputes. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Gleich)

In addition to his claims about the alleged factory defect with the power supply, Gleich contends that Glowforge is sending refurbished machines to customers that it’s passing off as new ones.

He has cited machines with red markings on screws on the bottoms of those machines as his proof that the company has worked on those machines previously.

“I believe that they’re refurbishing machines with used power supplies that already have the defect and putting a [nylon wiring] sleeve on a used power supply and then putting it into a machine,” Gleich said.

Glowforge’s complaint said, “Gleich targeted Glowforge’s customers and prospects with false information that machines sold as new could be identified as actually refurbished” by locating Phillips head screws on the bottom of the machine marked in red.

“This is patently false,” the complaint read. “New units that Glowforge produces have red markings on the screws.”

Read Glowforge’s Oct. 2023 complaint against Jonathan Gleich:

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Source: Geek Wire

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