Seiko Epson filed a fresh complaint with the U.S. International Trade commission last week, accusing 24 new companies of manufacturing, distributing, or importing after-market ink cartridges which infringe on Epson’s intellectual property. The complaint asks that the companies be banned from importing or selling the products in the United States. Epson has filed a separate suit against the same companies in a Portland court seeking damages.
In April 2005, Epson brought similar suits against companies based in France and Hong Kong. The Hong Kong company, Multi-Union Trading, was barred from selling 75 products in the United States. Epson has also launched a patent infringement case against England’s Medea International for importing ink cartridges that infringe on Epson’s patents, and reached out-of-court settlements with two British companies (Environmental Business Products and CybaHouse) over sales and importation of Epson-compatible ink cartridges.
The suits are clearly intended to protect Epson’s lucrative ink cartridge market: ink jet printer makers typically make most of their profit selling ink cartridges rather than the printers themselves. Epson has previously said it does not intend to stamp out third-party ink cartridge manufacturers, but takes action only against companies whose products infringe upon Epson patents. “Epson recognizes and respects competitors’ rights to sell aftermarket inkcartridges as long as they compete fairly, which includes not infringingpatents,” said Liz Leung, director of Supplies Marketing, Epson America. “Aswith numerous patent and trademark infringement lawsuits filed previously, wehave taken both of these actions to protect the company’s innovative productsfrom unfair competition.”