Defensive moves





The decision by Seiko Epson Corporation to begin legal proceedings in theUKagainst Medea International, which it claims has infringed itsUKpatents, is the latest in a series of actions by the company to protect its patents


Epson – one of the top four printer manufacturers together with Canon, Hewlett-Packard and Lexmark – means business when it comes to protecting its patents. It recently filed suits against 24 companies in the US and has others pending in Europe.


In the UK, Epson claims that Medea, a computer consumables distributor in the UK and Europe, has infringed on patents belonging to Epson by importing ink cartridges compatible with Epson printers into the UK. Medea sells these imported cartridges in the UK under a number of brands, including Inkrite PhotoPLUS.


In the press release, Epson says Medea’s imported cartridges have a spongeless valve design which it claims is similar to Epson’s patented Smart Valve Technology.


Seiichi Hirano, CEO of the Imaging Products Operations Division at Seiko Epson, said: "We do not take the decision to litigate against another company lightly. However, to protect our technology against the various claims being made by Medea International and by its continued acts of importation into the UK which infringe Epson’s UK patents and which undermine the benefits provided to our customers, Epson has been forced into taking the decision of starting UK patent infringement proceedings."


In reply, Medea released a statement saying: "Medea has received notification that patent infringement proceedings are to be commenced against it in the English High Court by Seiko Epson Corporation. Medea is confident, on the basis of legal advice, that its Inkrite PhotoPLUS cartridges do not infringe Epson’s patents and intends vigorously to defend the court action if Epson insists on proceeding."


So the two companies could be set to fight it out in the courts, and no doubt many third-party companies will take an interest in the outcome.


Jim Forrest, a senior analyst with imaging industry research agency Lyra, believes it is no surprise that Epson is fighting its corner on all fronts. He claimed: "Epson is looking around the world and anytime it sees companies which it believes are copying its patents, it is bringing lawsuits. Out of the top four companies, Epson has lost the largest market share to the third-party companies. These companies take more of Epson’s market because Epson’s cartridges are easier to replicate."


Third-party companies currently have 38 per cent market share in unit terms and 24 per cent in revenue terms – a modest figure because their cartridges are cheaper to buy.